South East Asia — ASEAN will take a step closer to becoming a moreformal and more rule-based entity.
Over the next few days, its leaders will evaluate a list of recommendations putforward by the Eminent Persons Group, tasked to look into establishing an ASEANCharter which will eventually serve as the bloc’s Constitution.
The Eminent Persons Group or EPG, comprising prominent figures from the 10member countries, was formed last year.
They have had several discussions and are now ready to present their report.
It will include recommendations to make ASEAN more effective, promoteintegration and narrow development gaps.
Repositioning ASEAN to take on challenges posed by a changing Asian economy willbe a focus at the 12th ASEAN Summit to be held in the Philippines this week.
It can be done through forging better ties with external partners, as well asupdating the grouping’s own objectives through an ASEAN Charter.
The EPG’s report suggests that the leaders meet more often to give greaterpolitical direction to building the ASEAN community.
It also offers measures to ensure members take their obligations seriously.
“The ASEAN Charter, which we hope to begin drafting after the leaders haveapproved the report of the Eminent Persons Group, should begin a process ofgreater legal certainty. This means if there are problems, if there are disputes,we invoke legal provisions to resolve them in a more definitive, in a morecertain way. This … would stiffen some of the softer aspect of ASEAN, like ouragreement on trade liberalisation. So we are going to institute a disputesettlement mechanism. It’s no point making agreements if we don’t abide by theseagreements or we do not take these agreements seriously,” said Singapore’sForeign Affairs Minister George Yeo.
On how the Charter will apply to Myanmar, Mr Yeo said it is a separate matter.
“We are impatient, we feel that the Myanmar government should do more tomove along that road map. We hope and we call for the Myanmar authorities toabide by their own road map to democracy and not to keep delaying it. We alsocall for the release of Aung Sun Su Kyi who, we believe, should be a part of thesolution,” said Mr Yeo.
Other matters to be raised at the Summit include trans-boundary problems likethe haze, avian flu and terrorism.
Mr Yeo said Indonesia’s determination to resolve the haze issue has beenimpressive but it will take time to overcome the problem.
How ASEAN tackles its problems will have an impact on the grouping’s credibility,and Mr Yeo believes ASEAN leaders have the political will to address challengesahead, especially in light of the growth of China and India.
The ASEAN Charter is expected to provide a legal framework to the grouping, andit is hoped that the leaders can sign the Charter next year when the Summit isheld in Singapore.
A high level task force will get started on drafting the Charter once the reporthas been endorsed this week, and Singapore’s representative on this task forcewill be Ambassador at Large, Professor Tommy Koh.