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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Asean leaders agree trade plan
Leaders of Asean countries gather under summit banner
Leaders announced bold plans for Asean's future
Leaders from 10 South East Asian nations have signed a declaration to create a free trade area by 2020.

The document, known as the Bali Concord II, also sets out plans for better co-operation on security and social issues between the member countries of Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

"We have just witnessed a watershed in the history of Asean," said Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

But the two-day meeting, on the Indonesian island of Bali, was overshadowed by Burma, and its military government's continued detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to the Bali Concord "an Asean Community" would be set upon three pillars, "namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation... for the purpose of ensuring durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region".

Burma's leaders are in for a torrid time at this year's Asean summit in Bali
The BBC's Larry Jagan

The plan envisaged a region with a population of 500 million and annual trade of US$720bn.

Asean's leaders also discussed setting up a security community alongside the economic one, though without any formal military alliance.

Delegates are expected to seek future trade agreements with regional powerhouses such as China, Japan and South Korea.

"If we join forces, Korea and Asean members, and by extension all of East Asia, will become the engine of growth for the world economy, and the 21st century will be the age of East Asia," South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told business leaders on Tuesday.

These issues were due to be discussed further on Wednesday, when Asean members meet delegates from China, Japan, South Korea and India before the summit's official close later in the day.

Burma's reception

There was speculation that new Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt would be in for a hard time from other Asean members at the summit.

The nation's ruling junta has refused to release Aung San Suu Kyi despite international condemnation.

Asean member countries
Brunei
Burma
Cambodia
Indonesia
Laos
Malaysia
Philippines
Singapore
Thailand
Vietnam

But so far, the only reference to Burma made at the summit was a statement on Tuesday afternoon by the host, Indonesia, which welcomed the "recent positive developments in Myanmar (Burma)".

Burma's planned "roadmap to democracy" was "a pragmatic approach and deserves understanding and support," said Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

International pressure has been building on Asean to overcome its tradition of non-interference in the affairs of member states, and take tough action against Burma's military junta.

In July the group took the unprecedented step of calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. But with little change since then, some critics say the time has come for Asean to take more drastic action.

"The Asean leaders have wimped out as far as Burma is concerned," said Debbie Stothard, spokeswoman for the Alternative Asean Network.

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also kept up the pressure on Burma on Tuesday.

"International society is concerned about democratisation and about Suu Kyi, and I am also worried," he is said to have told Khin Nyunt during the Asean talks.

But in the new Bali Concord, Asean once again reaffirmed its commitment to "the fundamental importance of adhering to the principle of non-interference".




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rachel Harvey
"Asean leaders have been keen to stress their common goals"



SEE ALSO:
Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
26 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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