Call for a path-breaking 30th Anniversary ASEAN Summit Declaration in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 14-16 to adopt and implement a regional social plan to specifically deal with six key issues of good governance, poverty, sustainable development, human rights, corruption and information technology

- Budget '98 Committee Stage (Foreign Ministry)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): The 30th Anniversary ASEAN Summit would be held in Kuala Lumpur on December 14-16 and this occasion should be made into a historic milestone in the realisation of the vision of an ASEAN Community in the year 2020.

The ASEAN leaders should commit their governments, nations and peoples to the development of a peaceful, democratic, prosperous and just South East Asia in the new millennium.

Towards this end, ASEAN leaders meeting for the 30th ASEAN Anniversary Summit in Kuala Lumpur should issue a path-breaking 30th Anniversary ASEAN Summit Declaration on ASEAN Vision 2020 to adopt and implement a regional social plan to specifically deal with six key issues of good governance, poverty, sustainable development, human rights, corruption and information technology.

Let the words go out from the Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Summit, loud and clear, to be heard not only in South East Asia but in the whole world that concerns about good governance, poverty, sustainable development, human rights, corruption and information technology are now no more individual local or national concerns but have become a regional agenda of the ASEAN community of nations.

It is precisely for these reasons that I have criticised the admission of Myanmar into ASEAN, for the military junta, whether the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) or the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) which it now calls itself, is not committed to anyone of these six issues - whether good governance, eradication of poverty, sustainable development, human rights, elimination of corruption and information technology.

In the past five months since its admission into ASEAN in July this year, except for a change of name on Nov. 15 after nine years of the terrible-sounding SLORC, the Burmese military junta has absolutely nothing to show in genuine political, economic or social reforms - with Burmese Opposition Leader and Nobel Peace-Prize laureate and her party, National League for Democracy which won the 1990 Burmese general election by a landslide, continuing to suffer persecution, while Burma is one of the few countries left in the world where the possession of modems is a serious crlminal offence involving long periods of imprisonment.

The SPDC should be required to submit a report to the ASEAN Summit as to the progress in political, economic and social reforms in Burma since its admission into ASEAN, and ASEAN should not hesitate to suspend Burmaís membership if the military junta refuses to co-operate to make meaningful progress of ASEANís policy of "constructive engagement".

ASEAN leaders cannot close their eyes to the dismal fact that under the rule of the Burmese generals, the health care delivery system in Burma had collapsed, the education system had collapsed and the economy had collapsed. The only areas seeing growth were the number of prisoners held under inhumane conditions, the infant mortality rates, HIV/Aids, the number of tons of opium harvested, hectares of mature hardwood forests subjected to clear cutting, and incidents of gang-rape, torture, forced relocations, and extrajudicial executions.

One reason for the change of SLORC to SPDC could be related to worsening economic problems and the presence of unskilled and corrupt ministers in important ministries. Furthermore, there is a strong likelihood of a food shortage next year because of heavy floods in the Irrawaddy delta as well as in Pegu and Mon states, setting the stage for another possible uprising as people grow increasingly frustrated with their daily hardships.

The Burmese military junta should be told in very clear terms that it risks expulsion from ASEAN if it embarks on any crackdown of human rights and democratic freedoms in the country. ASEAN should also bring pressure to bear on SPDC to enter into a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy to pave the way for the restoration of a democratically-elected government.

When she met Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon at the Rangoon residence of the Filipino ambassador to Burma on Oct. 17, Aung San Suu Kyi agreed that ASEAN arrange a dialogue between her and Burma's military government.

Siazon was the highest-ranking government official from any ASEAN country to meet the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and it is most unfortunate that the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Abdullah Badawi had not insisted on the right to personally establish contact and meet with Aung San Suu Kyi when he was the previous Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee.

The ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur should set up the mechanism for ASEAN to arrange for such a dialogue between SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi to show the people of ASEAN and the world that ASEANís "constructive engagement" is not just an engagement with the government of Burma, but also an engagement with the people of Burma and their genuine leaders. In fact, ASEAN should encourage SPDC to hold general elections by before the year 2,000, so that Burmaís membership in ASEAN would not be inconsistent with the aspirations of the people in South East Asia for democracy where the people have the right to choose the government they want.

The SPDC must show that it is more open and democratic than the SLORC and that the change is not just in name only. If it is to be a full member of ASEAN, it should permit the people from the other ASEAN countries to have free contacts with the people of Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy activists in the National League for Democracy and in other organisations.

Members of Parliament from other ASEAN countries, for instance, should be permitted free travel to Burma and to visit Aung San Suu Kyi and to meet with democracy activists. I would be contacting the Burmese Ambassador to inform him of my wish to visit Burma and to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi together with other interested MPs and political leaders and the response of the SPDC would be a test as to whether the Burmese military junta is ready for political, economic and social reforms to bring Burma into the modern era.

Malaysia should allow the holding of NGOs' "People's Summit" to coincide with the APEC 1998 Summit in Kuala Lumpur next year to show the country's commitment to the development of a global civil society

At the end of the APEC summit in Vancouver last week, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Malaysia, which would host APEC 1998 in Kuala Lumpur next year, would allow NG0s to stage protest meetings if it was satisfied they would conduct their activities peacefully and politely.

In the case of the APEC 1997 which had just concluded in Vancouver, the British Columbia provincial government in Canada had allowed a "People's Summit" to be held in a nearby venue for participants to speak on issues ignored by APEC, ranging from human rights to women's rights.

The NGOs' Alternative People's Summit has become an indispensable and integral part of important international conferences, which is a recognition of the emergence of a global civil society.

In his speech at the launching of the National IT Awareness campaign last month, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said the ultimate goal of Malaysia's national information technology agenda is to create a civil society.

In the global village of today, where distance and time have been dissolved by the information revolution, no national civil society can be secure without the support and strengthening of a global civil society.

Malaysia must not only work towards the creation of a civil society in the country, but for the emergence of a global civil society - and this is why Malaysia should take a bold and courageous step to openly commit itself to allow the holding of a parallel NGOs' People's Summit to coincide with the holding of the APEC 1998 Summit in Kuala Lumpur in November next year.

Malaysia would suffer grave and unnecessary damage to our international reputation if we are so insensitive as to ban to holding of such a NGOs' People's Summit in Kuala Lumpur or to treat the large number NGOs participants and representatives in a heavy-handed or brutal manner such as arrests and deportations.

In fact, Malaysia should be ready for the largest gathering of NGO representatives in the history of the country during next year's APEC Summit.

At the Vancouver APEC 1997 Summit, about 2,000 chanting demonstrators protested outside the Apec summit, calling on leaders to put human rights and other social issues higher on their agenda, seeking to highlight a host of causes ranging from workers' rights to the environment and the perils of free trade. Organisers of the People's Summit presented a declaration to Canadian officials urging greater focus on human rights.

The Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy even praised the NGOsí efforts. He said: "We think the People's Summit has been a constructive exercise. The issues they raised about looking at the social and economic consequences of trade and economic development were seen as matters that need to be addressed."

Let Malaysia show that we are equally mature in our positive response to the role of NGOs, both national and international, in the development of a global civil society.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong