Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:41 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:41 | SYDNEY

Taking Southeast Asia seriously


Andrew Shearer

22 May 2008 13:48

It is interesting that a conversation about the suffering of the Burmese people at the hands both of nature and of an odious regime ends up being about the US. The unipolar moment may have passed, but for some, America clearly remains the indispensible whipping boy.

I would have thought that most would welcome the proposition that more Southeast Asian nations and institutions are beginning to take seriously the human rights not only of their own citizens but of their neighbours. You don’t have to take it from me or from an American – this from respected Indonesian commentator Jusuf Wanandi:

It is an accepted wisdom that in international relations every nation pursues its own national interest. This notion is based on state sovereignty…However, this principle has been eroded due to regional and international rules and institutions at the multilateral level, and civil societies and NGOs at the sub-national ones…What is absolute for Indonesia’s public opinion concerning the ASEAN Charter is a credible human rights body.

And Japan’s Professor Masayuki Tadokoro recently called for Europeans to ‘start taking democratic Asia more seriously rather than regarding it as a funny imitator of modernity for which it claims (often excessively) full credit’. I agree.

The cyclone in Burma was a natural tragedy. The regime’s response is a disgrace. ASEAN has clearly done too little too late. But the efforts of the US and the democratic nations of Asia to help the Burmese people – despite the generals’ resistance - should be applauded, not met with jaded moral relativism.