How will Ninth ASEAN Summit in Bali be remembered by history - for the Bali Concord II concept of an integrated ASEAN Economic Community or its instant betrayal by the failure to take a strong stand for democracy in Myanmar?
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): The Ninth ASEAN Summit in Bali has ended in great fanfare and high emotion as the last ASEAN gathering of Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, but how will it be remembered by history?
When history is written, will the ASEAN Bali Summit be remembered for ushering a new era for ASEAN because of the Bali Concord II concept of an integrated ASEAN economic community, aiming to achieve a single market by 2020, with a free flow of goods, services and investment in a region encompassing more than 500 million people and annual trade totaling US$720 billion?
Or will it be remembered for the instant betrayal of the Bali Concord II concept of an integrated ASEAN community by the failure of the ASEAN summiteers to take a stand for democracy in Myanmar and their inability to realize that a sound political environment with minimal respect for democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance are indispensable to the successful evolution of a distinctive ASEAN spirit and sense of community.
The Bali ASEAN Summit is a diplomatic triumph for the Myanmese military junta when it was expected to be put in the dock for its defiance of international opinion and rebuff of ASEAN and United Nations pressures to immediately release Burmese Opposition Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi from her third house arrest and to revive political dialogue for democratization and national reconciliation between the military junta, the National League for Democracy and the ethnic minorities.
Only a week earlier, even before the failure of the 11th mission of the United Nations envoy Tan Sri Razali Ismail to Yangon, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had warned in an usually blunt report to the UN General Assembly that “the international community will have to conclude that the home-grown national reconciliation process no longer exists" unless Aung San Suu Kyi was released immediately coupled with “substantive dialogue”.
Dr. Mahathir has said that he had no regrets in being instrumental in admitting Myanmar to Asean during Malaysia’s chairmanship of the regional grouping in 1997, but ASEAN might have cause to regret that the failure of the ASEAN Bali Summit to take a stand for democracy in Myanmar had laid the seeds to undermine the success of the Bali Concord II concept of an ASEAN Economic Community.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi is the only political leader to leave Bali with his honour and credit intact on the Burma question, as he had kept his word to impress on the Myanmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt why it was imperative that Suu Kyi should be released immediately and democracy restored in the country.
In contrast, the ASEAN Summit was easily taken in by the alteration of incarceration conditions for Suu Kyi from detention to house-arrest and the “seven-point road map to democracy” to find “positive developments” in Myanmar when there was none.
Right from the beginning, the DAP had taken the stand that ASEAN Governments, Parliaments and public opinion must be unanimous and unswerving in their rejection of the Myanmese military junta’s seven-point roadmap to democracy in Burma announced by Khin Nyunt on August 30 as the seven-stage roadmap to democracy must be the result of a political dialogue after Suu Kyi’s release and not the outcome of the unilateral announcement by the military junta.
After the more spirited stand of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phonm Penh in June to show that ASEAN is not the weakest link in the campaign by the United Nations and the international community to pressure the Myanmar military junta to respect international opinion and the fundamental rights of the Burmese for democratization and national reconciliation, the ASEAN Summit in Bali was a great letdown for turning a blind eye to the plight of democracy in Myanmar.
Malaysia and other ASEAN countries cannot wait for the annual ASEAN Summits but must be prepared to institute quarterly or even monthly monitors of progress or developments – or the lack thereof - in democratization and national reconciliation in Burma, both individually and collectively.
The Malaysian Parliament can set an example for all other ASEAN Parliaments by establishing an all-party Parliamentary Committee on Myanmar to monitor and issue monthly reports on Democracy Watch in Myanmar, not only to make amends for the failure of the Bali ASEAN Summit to take a stand on the issue but to give meaning to the Bali Concord II concept and vision of a distinctive ASEAN community spirit.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman