SINGAPORE — Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) kicked off an annual meeting here Monday morning, discussing Thailand-Cambodia border dispute, assessment of Myanmar Cyclone Nargis disaster, the ASEAN Charter and regional security.
At the opening ceremony of the 41st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as current chair of ASEAN, said that two events during Singapore’s chairmanship stood out, one was ASEAN’s response after Cyclone Nargis struck Southern Myanmar in May and the other was the signing of the ASEAN Charter last November.
He described ASEAN’s response to Myanmar’s cyclone as the crisis which "tested ASEAN’s unity", saying "it forced us to consider what ASEAN meant to Myanmar, and in turn what Myanmar meant to the group."
Founded in 1967, the ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar only allowed its ASEAN counterparts to lead the humanitarian assistant three weeks after the cyclone hit southern Myanmar in early May.
"While many difficulties still lie ahead, ASEAN played an important role in bridging the gap of trust between the Myanmar government and international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank," Lee said, adding that, "ASEAN facilitated the flow of emergency aid to the disaster victims…The situation is clearly better than if ASEAN had not intervened to persuade Myanmar to cooperate with the international community."
On the ASEAN Charter, the 41-year-old group’s first legally binding document designed to help it become a single trading bloc, the prime minister said, the grouping has decided to press on with the Charter’s implementation without waiting for all ten members to ratify.
"The pace of ASEAN integration should not be set by its slowest members, or else all will be held back by the problems of a few," he said.
Lee also announced the establishment of an ASEAN Studies Center within the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore.