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Saturday, November 17, 2007

ASEAN Charter

Nov 17, 2007
PM: Asean must show will to deliver on Charter pledges
Document marks a 'major milestone' towards integration and regional prosperity
By Warren Fernandez, Deputy Editor & Foreign Editor

NOW that the talking and drafting is done, Asean countries will have to show the world that they are resolved to draw closer together and make the lofty vision in their new Charter, to be signed on Tuesday, a reality.
Making this call in an interview with The Straits Times, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the Asean Charter as a 'major milestone' in Asean's continuing journey towards being a region that is integrated, stable and prosperous.

'It is a good document that reflects the collective determination of all 10 member states to build an Asean Community.

'But its ambitions can only become a reality through sustained political commitment from all members,' he said of the Charter, a constitution of sorts for the 40-year-old regional grouping.

He added that the Charter would 'transform Asean from a loose regional grouping into an effective rules-based organisation, where commitments are duly implemented and compliance is monitored, and where disputes are settled effectively and peacefully.'

The 31-page Charter includes provisions for leaders to meet twice a year, new rules for settling disputes peacefully, more flexible decision-making processes, and steps to beef up the organisational structure of the grouping so that it is able to monitor and implement what members have agreed to do together.

But Asean officials have been keen to stress that the Charter in itself is but a step in an evolutionary process of community building - a 'continuing journey', as PM Lee put it - with much work left to be done.

The Charter will be signed on Tuesday when leaders from the 10 member states meet here for their 13th annual summit starting on Monday.

The summit, which also marks Asean's 40th anniversary, will see a flurry of diplomatic meetings culminating in the signing of the Charter, as well as a blueprint to forge an Asean Economic Community by 2015, and several 'green' declarations on environmental sustainability and climate change.

Stressing that what was needed next was political will to deliver on these visionary statements, PM Lee said: 'Asean must demonstrate to the world its resolve to pursue closer integration. A strong Asean can deepen its engagement with external partners, and work with them on shared challenges like economic development, regional security, climate change and environmental protection.'

Asked if regional economic integration was proceeding fast enough, and what might be done to speed it up, he noted that Asean had brought forward by five years the target for the establishment of the Economic Community to 2015.

At next week's summit, leaders will be adopting the blueprint to achieve this, with detailed timelines and milestones, he noted.

But he acknowledged that Asean was a cooperative enterprise among countries at very different stages of economic development. While this diversity was a strength, at times it was also a constraint, as all members had to be comfortable with the pace of integration.

'Governments need to convince their peoples that integration is indeed in their best interests, and muster the political will to make it happen, even when it is difficult or when there are other pressing priorities,' he said.

In the interview, Mr Lee also touched on the issues of climate change and Myanmar, both of which are expected to feature prominently in next week's discussions among Asean leaders, as well as with their East Asian counterparts.

Looking ahead, he added that as Asean draws closer, countries would have to learn to tackle common problems, such as environmental concerns, pandemics and natural disasters, together.

'The Charter recognises that with growing interdependence, Asean will have to adjust its traditional non-intervention approach, in areas where the common interest dictates closer cooperation.

'National interests will increasingly have to be balanced with regional and international interests. Non-intervention cannot mean no action or indifference.'

warren@sph.com.sg

ASEAN SUMMIT SPECIAL, ASIA

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