ASEM V – Will Burma be its Waterloo?

01 October 2004
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As the ASEM V opens in Hanoi on October 8, Burma emerges as the litmus test of ASEM’s credibility. Burma will be represented at the ASEM V by Foreign Minister General Major Nyan Win.

This development was already anticipated by the more than 500 delegates from the Asia Europe Peoples Forum (AEPF), held in Hanoi from September 6-9, who presented a Statement on Burma to the Vietnamese Foreign Minister on September 10.

"In 1997, the world community was told that further pressure would be brought upon the military junta through its participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Six years later, the human rights, economic and political situations have severely deteriorated. The world community is being presented with similar arguments for the entry of Burma into the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) process. ASEM countries have agreed to allow Burma to have a downgraded presence in the upcoming ASEM V in Hanoi, Vietnam. We believe that allowing the military regime to have a presence in international events such as ASEM gives legitimacy to the regime, further hurting the people of Burma. (... ) Until the regime complies with the demands of the international community as expressed through resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, governments must not provide support to the regime."

ASEM V marks a major expansion of members – 13 countries of East and Southeast Asia, 25 countries of the EU and the European Commission. This expansion is likely to drive a wider wedge between the governments and peoples in both regions since no mechanism has been put in place for civil society participation in the process.

Established in 1996, the ASEM promised to be a new chapter in Asia Europe relations. However ASEM rode out the Asian Financial crisis with renewed commitment to corporate led globalisation despite the devastating impact of these economic policies on millions of lives and livelihoods in the Asian region.

The corporate hijacking of the ASEM process has been a central concern of the Peoples Forum. From the beginning it is the economic pillar of ASEM with its commitment to neo-liberal globalisation and a WTO trade and investment regime which has been strongly institutionalised, leaving the political and cultural pillars in limbo. The privileged access of the Asia Europe Business Forum is an expression of this.

A continuing priority concern of the Asia Europe People’s Forum, has been the complete lack of a social dimension in ASEM. The AEPF5 Declaration re-iterated this and called on the ASEM governments to establish by ASEMVI "a Forum which can further enable people and people’s organisations, including trade unions, to contribute to the building of a new Europe-Asia partnership and interaction with the official process".