‘ASEAN-US ties at risk if Myanmar gets chairmanship’
BANGKOK: US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick welcomed Wednesday regional efforts to get Myanmar to reform but warned of “severe limitations” on US-ASEAN relations if the military-ruled state chaired the grouping.
“I did express our concern about how it would hinder our dealings with ASEAN if Burma were the chair, but I recognise that’s a decision for the ASEAN countries to make,” Zoellick told reporters in Bangkok using the former name for Myanmar when it was under British rule.
“Burma’s role puts severe limitations on what the US can do, so I can’t go beyond that at this point, we’ll see what ASEAN decides to do.” Zoellick is on a 10-day trip to Southeast Asia, and met Wednesdau with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon to discuss Washington’s views about the pace of reforms in Myanmar.
Parliamentarians in several countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations have urged their governments to block Myanmar from assuming the rotating ASEAN chair in 2006 because of Yangon’s lack of democractic reforms.
Zoellick declined to say if the US would boycott ASEAN meetings were Myanmar to become chair, but Washington in the past has said it might boycott ASEAN meetings in Yangon unless Myanmar adopted political reforms, including the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi. “Now it’s a real question of whether others can continue to try to press the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi, move towards a serious process of democractic reconciliation,” Zoellick said Wednesday. “There are more voices from Southeast Asia now raising concerns about the political situation in Burma than there were in the past. I think that’s a good step.”
Zoellick also said he would see firsthand Indonesia’s tsunami reconstruction and redevelopment efforts ahead of a crucial US Congress vote on 950 million dollars worth of aid.
Military-ruled Myanmar may skip its turn as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Thailand said on Wednesday, presenting a possible face-saving solution for the 10-member regional group. “It’s a possibility, one of the possibilities they are thinking of,” Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Souphamongkon told reporters asking whether Yangon would miss the chairmanship.
With Myanmar’s junta due to take over ASEAN’s alpabetically rotating chair in mid-2006, the group has become sucked into the controversy surrounding Yangon’s human rights record, in particular its detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. agencies