Myanmar’s preparations for the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014 have been going well as the country is set to host the group’s series of meetings for the first time next year.
Myanmar's Ambassador to Indonesia, Min Lwin, said that logistics and infrastructure for the chairmanship were almost ready. “Now we have to think about the small and fine points. In September, everything will be perfect,” he said.
During the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta in 2011, Myanmar officially lobbied to be named the ASEAN chair in 2014 instead of 2016, swapping with Laos. Some ASEAN members were reluctant, concerned that Myanmar’s tenure in 2014 would hamper ASEAN’s target of becoming a fully fledged community by 2015.
However, after several assessments, later that year, all ASEAN members were convinced democracy in Myanmar had improved and that it deserved to chair ASEAN in 2014.
Myanmar is now putting all its efforts into improving physical preparations as well as the substantive agenda.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general of ASEAN affairs, Aung Htoo, said that the country was keen to see success in its first time handling ASEAN meetings, noting that preparations had actually been discussed before the country chairmanship was decided in 2011.
“We even sent architects to Indonesia and Cambodia before that period to learn about the summit’s venue,” he noted.
In addition to a new convention center in Naypyidaw, a new transportation system and accommodations have also been developed.
In term of substance, Myanmar would like to advance on three issues, namely the people-centered ASEAN, convention on trafficking in persons and migrant workers. “In those areas, we would like to make some progress,” Aung Htoo said, adding that it has consulted with Indonesia as well as Singapore and Cambodia to learn how to manage and deal with the matters.
Myanmar is building its own capacity building. “So, we are confident that by the time we take the chair, we will be ready.” he noted.
Expecting sensitive issues to be brought up during its tenure, such as the South China Sea, Min Lwin underlined that the country would try its best to continue for the conclusion of the code of conduct (CoC). “The foundation is already there, from the declaration of conduct [DoC]. I think China’s response has been positive. I think they would like to go along with it.”
In approaching the sensitive issue, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry’s director for international organization division, Htin Lynn, added that the country would preserve and further enhance the centrality and cohesiveness of ASEAN. “We are trying to be transparent and want to maintain inclusiveness. As the chair, we are going to be impartial,” Htin Lynn said.
As part of its preparations, 15 Myanmar diplomats and other officials, including the media, conducted a series of consultation programs in Jakarta in May, aimed at exchanging expertise and experiences with stakeholders relevant to ASEAN chairmanship.
During the programs, organized by the German Federal Foreign Office commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and the ASEAN Secretariat, the delegation met with officials from the two institutions to identify priority topics and the so-called deliverables; and with the committee of permanent representatives representing ASEAN countries to gain extensive knowledge in dealing with dialogue partners to
promote ASEAN centrality.
Aside from the region, the delegation will also participate in similar programs in Berlin and Brussels at the end of June to learn from the European Union (EU) and to visit NATO headquarters.
Communicating with the mass media is also a part of the preparations.
“We are learning to deal with the media, to fulfill the wishes of the media and to get their support during the summit,” Aung Htoo said.