(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): Malaysia should support the Thai proposal to end the ASEAN policy of non-interference in one another's internal affairs.
Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan had proposed last month that Asean members, which traditionally avoid delving into one another's affairs, should change this policy, adding that this would result in greater flexibility which would help Asean recover some of the clout it has lost due to the Asian financial crisis.
Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Lauro Baja has said that the ASEAN foreign ministers, who will meet in Manila later this month, will discuss the Thai proposal.
Baja also confirmed press reports that the Philippines was already taking a position of "flexible engagement" with Asean member Burma, aimed at helping avoid a political upheaval in that country.
Malaysia should in fact go one step further to propose that ASEAN adopt a "constructive intervention" policy on inter-ASEAN relations.
The first country for such an ASEAN "constructive intervention" policy to be put into practice is undoubtedly Burma, where opposition groups in the country had recently warned that serious social unrest was set to erupt in that country amid rising tensions with government forces.
Burma’s military Government has lashed out at Thailand and the Philippines for "presumptuous" comments about its internal situation and warned their interference could damage ASEAN unity.
Thailand, the Philippines and hopefully Malaysia should not allow such threats from steering ASEAN into the new territory of "constructive intervention", for sterile ASEAN unity allowing individual ASEAN governments to continue to pursue political, economic and social policies inimical to the interests of the ASEAN grouping in promoting development, democracy and peace cannot become an inflexible and immovable ASEAN icon.
The Burmese military junta should be made to understand that the worsening Burmese political situation and the danger of a violent confrontation between the regime and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is a threat to ASEAN stability.
Malaysia should give full endorsement to the sentiment expressed by senior Thai Foreign Ministry official Kobsak Chatikul: "We, as fellow ASEAN member countries, feel that any new instability in the region could affect efforts to achieve regional economic rehabilitation."
In fact, the time has come for a fundamental change in ASEAN policy at the July 24-25 ASEAN ministerial meeting in Manila to adopt a "constructive intervention" policy on inter-ASEAN relations and I hope Malaysia will provide the bold lead to bring about such a new direction in ASEAN development.