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Economy, Climate Change and Burma Are on the Agenda at Asean Summit - 7 Apr 2010

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Hanoi. Southeast Asian leaders are expected to focus on economic integration and climate change during a regional summit that opens in Hanoi today, but will likely discuss Burma’s contentious election plans as well.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations hopes to advance its goals of forming a European-style economic community by 2015 and promoting development across the region.

Some members are likely to press privately for a statement urging Burma’s military junta to modify new laws governing the elections, which the largest opposition group plans to boycott. But the Asean leaders are unlikely to make any strong public statement condemning Burma, observers have said.

“They will probably express their displeasure in a mild way officially and strongly behind the scenes,” said James Chin, a political science professor at Monash University in Malaysia.

Burma’s junta plans to call elections sometime this year, but under its recently-released election laws, detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is forbidden from participating.

Last week, members of her party, the National League for Democracy, announced they would not participate in the polls, the first in 20 years.

Chin said democratic Asean members, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, were frustrated by the political situation in Burma. “They feel the problems in Burma are giving Asean a bad name in the international arena,” he said.

But Asean has a tradition of noninterference in its members’ political affairs, so a strong public rebuke is unlikely at this 16th regional summit. Political consensus is also difficult to reach among the 10 nations, which include a military junta, communist states and democracies.

Chin said Asean was generally more of a forum for talk than action. “They are very good at making statements but not very good at following up,” he said. “That is the traditional Asean way.”

Leaders will also call for a legally binding global pact on climate change, according to a draft summit statement released on Wednesday.

The statement said the summit would urge rich countries to continue taking the lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

All parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change should “work together to secure a legally binding agreement, particularly to limit the increase in average global temperature to below two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level,” the draft said.

The focus, however, is likely to be on economics, analysts say.

At the last Asean summit, held in Thailand, the group agreed on ways to deal with the global economic crisis. With the regional outlook beginning to improve, they may decide to remove steps taken previously to stimulate the regional economy.


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Source: The Jakarta Globe