Myanmar helped ease tensions at ASEAN summit: Minister

Myanmar has played a pivotal role in helping to ease tensions in the South China Sea during the ASEAN summit, said the country’s Information Minister Ye Htut on Tuesday (Nov 25).

By May Wong, Myanmar Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia
POSTED: 25 Nov 2014 20:33
UPDATED: 25 Nov 2014 23:36

YANGON: Myanmar’s Information Minister said on Tuesday (Nov 25) the country has played a pivotal role in helping to ease tensions in the South China Sea during the ASEAN summit. He has also defended the government’s handling of the Rohingya issue.

His comments came after Myanmar chaired the ASEAN summit for the first time earlier this year, where heated exchanges over the South China Sea took place between China and some ASEAN members such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

After the summit, these nations agreed to try and conclude the Code of Conduct (COC) soon to resolve their maritime territorial dispute. This binding code can work to prevent future incidents in the South China Sea.

“As Myanmar chair, we were able to handle the most sensitive regional issue during our chairmanship,” said Myanmar Information Minister Ye Htut. “In South China Sea, we can bring the two sides to have the agreement. Now even the Chinese government agree to implement the full implementation of the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) and work to speed up the process to implement the COC.

Some observers say Myanmar played a key role in pulling the member nations together on this issue. “The chair has the responsibility to make sure that they have consensus and that’s what’s most important. I think Myanmar was able to do that very efficiently and I think you have to give credit to Myanmar,” said Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies.

For Myanmar, it was not just crucial to pull off a series of successful meetings as a first-time ASEAN Chair, but it was more of a payback for the benefits it has reaped from the grouping. For decades, when Myanmar was under sanctions, it was only through the ASEAN meetings that policymakers learnt about international relations and economic transformations

Mr Ye Htut says the ASEAN grouping plays a critical role in Myanmar’s reform process. For such reforms to take place, he says it is vital to build trust with the people and maintain peace and stability.

But the minister rejected criticisms on Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingyas or Bengalis, who are largely residing in the western Rakhine state. “During this year, now, there’s no communal violence again in that area,” said Mr Ye Htut. “We finalised the action plan with the international partner and both communities now clearly understand they have to live together peacefully.”

But analysts say it is important for Myanmar to resolve this difficult issue. “I think the Rohingya issue is a very important issue that Myanmar cannot run away,” said Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn. “It has to face it squarely and I think have to work out solutions.”

ASEAN can also lend a hand in helping Myanmar resolve this problem as it has regional ramifications.

– CNA/ec