(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The decision of the ASEAN foreign ministers informal meeting to admit Myanmar into ASEAN-10 at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur on July 24 is a great disappointment and have rightly provoked a sense of outrage, not only in international circles but also in the region as well.
The Burmese State Law and Order Council (SLORC) should take heed of the remarks by the Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto that it should not regard Asean membership as a form of pardon for the military junta.
Hashimoto said: "Although I basically support ASEAN ' s policy of not isolating Burma, I will watch developments so that the membership would not give a pardon to the military regime".
"ASEAN makes it a rule not to meddle in domestic affairs. But we have told it to consider worries of the international society as moves of the military regime were active recently," he said.
SLORC should also heed the Singapore Straits Times editorial that it is on "probation" in ASEAN and its ruling generals should be "taught to stay in line ...and made to learn that it is not in their interest to let Asean down with actions that are beyond the pale".
In fact, it is not only SLORC which is on "probation", ASEAN has also placed itself on "trial" as to whether it could ensure that Burma under SLORC would help to make the ASEAN constructive policy a success and see positive results in the area of democratic reforms and national reconciliation or whether the admission into ASEAN would be a precursor to more repressive policies against the people of Burma.
The eight-week period between the Asean foreign ministers informal meeting and the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on July 24, is the first probation period for SLORC, as to whether it could show ASEAN and the world that it can be a responsible regional and global player by initiating tripartite discussions among the military junta, the National League for Democracy headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic minorities to pave the way for national reconciliation and unity.
The Straits Times editorial spoke for all peoples of ASEAN when it wrote:
"With the three newest members .., Southeast Asia will become a production centre and market of 500 million people when protective tariffs are brought down gradually.
"But Asean is also about human decency. Here, it essentially means the responsibility of member governments to give their people the best deal possible, and to be respectful of their rights.
"On its record of political persecution and denying the people the results of a free election in 1990, the military junta of Burma brings odium to Asean's fair name."
The question that should be answered in this eight-week period before Burma’s formal admission into ASEAN is whether SLORC is prepared to show a more democratic face or whether it wants to be admitted into ASEAN merely to legitimise and perpetuate its repressive regime and policies.