Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 12:17 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 12:17 | SYDNEY

Two cheers for ASEAN


Andrew Shearer

16 May 2008 09:24

News that ASEAN will lead a ‘coalition of mercy’ to assist the ill-destined people of Burma following the cyclone is an interesting development.

We’ll have to wait and see whether it amounts to the ‘defining moment’ for ASEAN proclaimed by the grouping’s Secretary-General, Surin Pitsuwan. ASEAN’s record is long on declaratory statements and somewhat shorter on concrete achievements. And it would be better if ASEAN’s response had been motivated more by spontaneous concern for the Burmese and less from being stung by criticism of its inaction.

Nonetheless, Surin’s announcement could start to give substance to the commitment in ASEAN’s much-heralded 2007 Charter to ‘the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Provisions of the Charter intended to enforce this commitment were watered down by the traditional ‘non-interference’ lobby in ASEAN. But Surin’s statement that ASEAN had decided to act ‘because nothing else has worked’ is encouraging. It provides support for the view of those such as US Asia expert Mike Green that we are seeing a subtle but real breaking down of traditional Southeast Asian views on sovereignty and an increasing emphasis on consistency with international norms.

If this proves to be borne out in Burma over coming weeks, that is to be welcomed.