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Message-ID: <199807060948.FAA06016@access2.digex.net>
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 1998 05:48:45 -0400
Reply-To: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU>
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU>
From: Alex G Bardsley <bardsley@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
Subject: Fwd: Turning point in regional etiquette (SCMP)

X-URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/template/templates.idc?artid=3D1998070602= 5239033&top=3Dasia&template=3DDefault.htx&maxfieldsize=3D2495

Manila's advice to neighbours marks turning point in regional etiquette

By Greg Torode, South China Morning Post Internet Edition,
Monday 6 July 1998

A new dawn heralding a far more politically engaged Southeast Asia became clearer over the weekend with strong words emerging from the Philippines.

Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon called for restraint and talks between Burma's military junta and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy amid heightened tensions in Rangoon.

At the same time, Philippine officials suggested a coalition could be the best result from a close Cambodian election race to avoid dictatorial tendencies of any winner.

Both comments surprised analysts and diplomats, who said they marked a clear departure from the traditional Association of Southeast Asian Nations mantra of non-intervention in a country's internal social or political affairs.

The policy, sustainable during the recent era of high growth and stability, has looked increasingly impotent following the outbreak of troubles such as forest fires and upheavals in Indonesia, Thai diplomats believe.

Mr Siazon threw his weight behind a controversial Thai drive for ASEAN to break from its subdued past in favour of energised flexible engagement to tackle cross-border problems such as refugees, drugs and prostitution.

The idea was now under serious consideration, he said, adding that any political upheaval in an ASEAN member state will have security, political and economic impact on neighbouring countries.

Members must get more involved without unduly transgressing on local sensitivities, he added.

Analysts believe both Thailand and the Philippines - traditionally the most liberal members of the nine-country grouping - are now moving swiftly to exploit a power vacuum following the regional economic crisis.

The departure of president Suharto of Indonesia and a newly humbled Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad means that both countries no longer dominate the grouping.

The need for a new vision is expected to surface at the forthcoming ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Manila at the end of the month.

Thai diplomats said the group must change to ensure it remained both respected and relevant internationally.

Considerable back-room debate is expected, with one-party states such as Laos and Burma already voicing concerns to Thailand that the policy could be a dangerous new turn.

ASEAN has expanded in the past three years to include Vietnam, Burma and Laos in the grouping of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Thailand.