Connect with us

Asean

Helping Myanmar – Burma Participate in the AEC

Many observers have become excited by recent moves by the Myanmar (aka Burma) government. The release of some political prisoners gives hope that the regime is genuine in its efforts to move beyond its junta past.

Avatar

Published

on

Asean summit flags

Many observers have become excited by recent moves by the Myanmar (aka Burma) government. The release of some political prisoners gives hope that the regime is genuine in its efforts to move beyond its junta past.

Diplomatic moves such as suspension of a Chinese dam project and the visit of Myanmar’s president to India, may evidence a desire for broader relations with the world beyond China. Others are skeptical, feeling that such moves are cosmetic only, intended to help Myanmar become ASEAN chair in 2014 (to be effected by a swap with currently scheduled Laos).

Both groups are probably correct. There appears to be a window of opportunity for reform as the regime attempts to achieve its goal of ASEAN chair. Ignoring these internal and diplomatic developments risks undermining supporters of liberalization, and would allow the hardliners in the Myanmar regime to resume overt control over the country.

Asean summit flags

The release of political prisoners and diplomatic moves are positive first steps by the Myanmar regime. However, the country still has problems with its economy, religious and ethnic discrimination, and other issues.

Yet, as I argued in the first post of this blog, Myanmar is not capable of serving as ASEAN chair in 2014. ASEAN should not allow a closed economy largely controlled by the military and its supporters to oversee the last, crucial year before the full implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

Laos and its officials have demonstrated enthusiasm for the AEC, motivated by the economic progress of its neighbors in Vietnam and Cambodia, but perhaps more so by its geographic position as a landlocked state dependent on freer trade and investment. Plus, the AEC will benefit from the dynamism and enthusiasm of the smaller members who will become ASEAN chair in 2012-2014: Cambodia, Brunei and Laos. Malaysia as ASEAN chair in 2015 can consolidate the progress.

Nevertheless, if the appeal of the ASEAN chair is indeed motivating change in Myanmar, then why not give that appeal more time to work? Myanmar is due to become ASEAN chair in 2016 anyway, and by that time much of the major work for the AEC should have already taken place.

The country would also benefit from additional two years of political and economic liberalization, if it continues. Current ASEAN chair Indonesia could offer to serve as a “mentor” to Myanmar during the next 5 years. In this role, Indonesia could serve as a useful role model (former military-controlled government-turned democracy with a globalized economy) and as a fail-safe (should Myanmar backtrack, experienced Indonesia could easily step in as ASEAN chair again).

The West can help the reform efforts in Myanmar by allowing technical economic assistance from multilateral and regional institutions. For example, a Burmese person I met at an AANZFTA workshop in Bali last week lamented that Myanmar would like to participate in a pilot program on the ASEAN Single Window, but could not because aid funding was blocked by U.S. sanctions. The West should be encouraging such assistance, which will open up the country and lessen the influence of the regime’s military supporters. Any more lifting of sanctions beyond technical assistance should depend on further progress in the country, which will take some time.

The release of political prisoners and diplomatic moves are positive first steps by the Myanmar regime. However, the country still has problems with its economy, religious and ethnic discrimination, and other issues. It should not be “rewarded” with the ASEAN chair in 2014, particularly when ASEAN can ill-afford the time and resources to deal with the inevitable distractions should Myanmar become chair prematurely.

Rather, ASEAN members should protect their own collective interests by not giving Myanmar the chair in 2014, but to encourage greater economic openness in the country by allowing Myanmar to become chair in 2016, with Indonesia providing useful oversight. For its part, the West should take advantage of this window of opportunity to foster development of a Burmese middle class, and to accept that Myanmar will become ASEAN chair at some point. The cumulative effects of such efforts will help the Burmese people overcome the years of misrule by the military regime.

Edmund Sim is a U.S. international trade lawyer at the Singapore office of Appleton Luff and adjunct associate professor of law at National University of Singapore. There, he teaches the first course developed on the law and policy of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). You can follow him via AEC Blog.

I am a U.S. international trade lawyer at the Singapore office of Appleton Luff and adjunct associate professor of law at National University of Singapore. There, I teach the first course developed on the law and policy of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). I have also advised the ASEAN Secretariat in an EU-funded assistance project on the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), and represented companies in dealing with the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation (AICO) scheme, Common External Preferential Tariff (CEPT) program and other ASEAN economic integration

Comments

Asean

The Latest on Covid-19 in Southeast Asia

Thailand has largely avoided widespread community transmission of Covid-19, but the kingdom is not faring well on the economic front, with a projected contraction of 7.1 percent this year.

Avatar

Published

on

Coronavirus Asia

As a region, Southeast Asia has fared relatively well in keeping coronavirus cases low, with the notable exceptions of the Philippines and Indonesia.

(more…)
Continue Reading

Laos

China’s debt-trap diplomacy: Laos’ credit rating downgraded to CCC

Laos’ debt challenge is deeply concerning, with some media commentators suggesting the country is falling into a debt trap as a result of Chinese infrastructure investments connected to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Boris Sullivan

Published

on

On 23 September, the Fitch Ratings agency downgraded Laos’ credit rating to CCC — the second downgrade in 2020, having dropped to B- in May.

(more…)
Continue Reading

Vietnam

Foreign capital still heads to Vietnam

As many as 798 projects added a combined over 5.11 billion USD to their investment capital, down 23 percent year-on-year in project number but up 6.8 percent in value.

Avatar

Published

on

Hanoi (VNA) – The total amount of foreign investment poured into Vietnam this year to September 20 reached 21.2 billion USD, equivalent to 81.8 percent of the same period last year, reported the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

(more…)
Continue Reading

Latest

Most Viewed

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 13,609 other subscribers

Trending