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Asian summits concluded in Cebu January 19, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, China, Community, East Asia, Japan, Regionalism, Southeast Asia.
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The Asian summits were due to be held in mid-December last year but called off due to what the host country, Philippines, saw as an approaching thunderstorm that would wreck havoc the carefully planned meetings. Unofficially, part of the reason was thought to be due to fears of a looming terrorist attack based on external intelligence sources. Whatever the reasons, Philippines chose to play safe and postponed it to a month later on a last minute notice.

Thus, the summits were carried out in Cebu from the 13th to 15th January under heavy security, successfully concluded without the storm nor the attacks.

There were four summit level meetings held consecutively a day apart. In an ‘inductive’ format, the ASEAN leaders gathered for their 12th ASEAN Summit on the first day, followed by the 10th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit and the 7th Tripartite Summit (plus three members) on the second day, and finally the 2nd East Asia Summit on the last day.

What have these meetings discussed and agreed upon? Below is a summary.

1. ASEAN Summit

  • uphold centrality of ASEAN and its standing as the driving force
  • five agreements were signed:
    1. Cebu Declaration Towards a Caring and Sharing Community – which reiterates ASEAN’s commitment to accelerate cooperation to improve the quality of life for citizens in the ASEAN region
    2. Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint for the ASEAN Charter – ASEAN leaders endorsed the Report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter and requested a task force to begin drafting the Charter before the next Summit.
    3. Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 – which will advance the integration of the ASEAN Community five years ahead of the original plan.
    4. ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – which will intensify ASEAN efforts to promote fair and appropriate employment protection for ASEAN migrant workers.
    5. ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism – aims at enhancing and deepening regional cooperation on counter terrorism activities.
  • hasten the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community to  2015 by transforming ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.
  • statement on Myanmar included in light of the failed UNSC resolution
  • agreed to forge closer cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

2. APT Summit

  •  reaffirmed the APT as the main vehicle in realizing an East Asia community, with ASEAN as the driving force, and with the active participation of the Plus Three members.
  • noted the scheduled adoption of the Second Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the next APT Summit in Singapore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of APT cooperation. The statement shall identify opportunities and challenges and offer strategic guidance for future direction of APT apart from reviewing a decade of accomplishments.
  • acknowledged China’s proposal for a regional monitoring center on infectious diseases. Also acknowledged with appreciation Japan’s new pledge of USD 67 million for battling avian and pandemic influenza in the region.
  • welcomed the outcome of the feasibility study by the Expert Group on the EAFTA, which was spearheaded by China.  And also welcomed the proposal of South Korea to conduct the Phase II study involving the in-depth sector-by-sector analysis of the EAFTA.
  • welcomed the proposal of Japan to establish an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

3. Tripartite Summit

  • held for the first time in two years.
  • agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism at level of senior foreign affairs officials to conduct close communication and coordination on regional matters.
  • agreed to start negotiations on trilateral investment agreement asap in 2007.
  • welcomed China’s proposal to designate 2007 as the Year of Cultural Exchange among China, Japan and South Korea.
  • agreed that the trilateral cooperation is important for East Asia cooperation and that they respect ASEAN as playing the leading role.
  • ‘abduction issue’ was not stated in the report but worded as “addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community”. China was reported as being supportive of Japan’s concerns in the abduction issue and would provide “necessary cooperation” (The Japan Times, Jan. 18, 2007)
  • took note of the progress and looked forward to more positive results of the joint research on trilateral FTA.

4. East Asia Summit

  • signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of fossil fuel use, and to reduce dependence on conventional fuels, among others.
  • reiterated support for ASEAN’s role as the driving force for economic integration in the region.
  • agreed to launch a Track Two study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) among EAS participants (based on Japan’s proposal for a free trade area among the 16 members).
  • included the phrase on the ‘abduction issue’ (first time ever) as Japan work to get support from the members for the unresolved abduction dispute between Japan and North Korea.

Apart from the above, there were ASEAN+1 summits held as well. With China, ASEAN signed an agreement on Trade in Services and another agreement on enhancing cooperation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the 14th of January.

Other news include a AUD 5 million finance by Australia announced on 12th January for the second phase of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases Progamme (EID), which aims to assist ASEAN countries in developing a regional instrument to mobilise multi –national (ASEAN) outbreak response teams.

Myanmar – a thorn in the ASEAN rose January 17, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, Government, Politics, Southeast Asia.
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ASEAN, which stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been coming up with new initiatives and moves not only to adapt itself to a globalizing world but to create a better future for the region is once again bogged down by the inefficiency of its most troubled member, Myanmar.

Ever since the military junta came to power in 1962 and denied its citizens basic democratic values enjoyed by its Southern neighbors, such as the continuous detention of Aung San Suu Kyi for the past 2 decades and rampant human rights violations, it has been under the international spotlight of NGOs and Western governments who have slapped it with all kinds of economic and political sanctions.

Unfortunately, the sanctions have done little to destabilize the junta or cause it to shift course even though it did come up with a so-called “road map” for democracy – a plan denounced by the UN and Western nations as a sham. Paranoia and fearful of an attack by the West are what some believes to have led the regime to move its capital administration from coastal Yangon to inland Pyinmana that began from the end of 2005.

A new member of ASEAN, Myanmar only joined in 1997 and as such is less familiar with the values and aspirations of the group. Despite apprehension from certain quarters, Malaysia’s former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was thought to have played an instrumental role in Myanmar’s accession. Reasons for bringing Myanmar in ranges from using the grouping to resolve some of the conflicts between Myanmar and neighboring countries like Thailand, and socializing the reclusive state through constructive engagement, to preventing it from falling into the Chinese sphere of influence.

 10 years down the road, ASEAN has not been able to make any successful headway as the country has remained a stubborn thorn stuck deep in ASEAN’s heart. This has prompted Dr Mahathir to recently express his dissatisfaction and regret for incorporating Myanmar. A little too late for that. The question then becomes what to do with Myanmar to avoid it from dragging the feet of other members who are eager to move forward and plunging the organization into international disgrace.

One way is to expel it from the group but how to go about doing this is less clear since there are no clear rules on punishing a member for non-compliance. This could change eventually should the ASEAN Charter be adopted and rules of engagement become binding.

In the meantime, ASEAN would have no choice but to take responsibility in resolving the Myanmar problem now that China and Russia have vetoed a Washington-backed UNSC resolution “calling on the regime to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups” (The Japan Times, January 15, 2007) 

Part of the reasoning for China and Russia to veto is that human rights problem in Myanmar has not been a threat to regional/international security and thus do not justify Security Council action. Another part of the reason, some believes to be more apparent, is the closeness between China and Myanmar and the importance of Myanmar’s untapped natural resources to China’s booming economy.

While Myanmar celebrates in victory, the other ASEAN members weren’t pleased with the result as most of them saw the resolution as the best way to put pressure on Myanmar in ways that the grouping has not been able to do. Resigned to that fact, the agreement to take responsibility for Myanmar was only then added into the statement of the group’s annual summit in Cebu, Philippines.

Higher education in Southeast Asia October 29, 2006

Posted by genchan in Education, Government, Southeast Asia.
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education1.jpg Found an interesting report from UNESCO on the current status of higher education in some of the Southeast Asian countries. According to the report (dated 2006), there are some visible changes on how the countries are adapting to the challenges facing higher education in the region and trends at the global level.

To briefly summarize, some of the more advance countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are becoming exporters of education, helping to expand transnational education across borders. This is partly due to the english language used which makes it easier for foreign students to study but also the fact that overseas providers have been given access to set up branch campuses, giving students from poorer countries opportunity to obtain degrees from well-known institutions at a fraction of the cost. Some of these branch campuses also act as catalysts in raising the standards of local institutions.

In light of global trends in the increase of institutional autonomy, the report noted that there is a gradual move for governments to trade autonomy for more accountability. Some countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are showing more willingness in ceding autonomy which has led to institutional restructuring and changes in university governance. Some has gone as far as delinking academics from civil service.

But as these measures are introduced (bit by bit), rules and regulations will have to be made more rigorous and a corporate culture to be nurtured as universities would be required to compete for funding on their own and maintain competitiveness. The setting up of research universities in Malaysia and specialized research institutes in Singapore are noted in the report as innovative approaches.

The balance between autonomy and accountability, however, continues to be a torny issue for most countries as political involvement is unavoidable. While the report provides an interesting update on the health of higher education in the region, the changing trends mentioned are minor steps as more needs to be done to fully integrate into the global educational system that could be achieved through stronger international cooperative research, increased foreign faculties and students, up-to-date curriculum/courses, reduced bureaucracy and competitive salaries. Interestingly, faculty salaries, which are notably low, has not been mentioned or covered well in the report.