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Monday, 31 July, 2000, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Asean: Reform or die?

Asean, the South-East Asian regional grouping, must reform or die - that's the message Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has delivered to the organisation's foreign ministers meeting in Bangkok.

He says the 33-year-old Association must become leaner in its operations and strengthen co-operation if it is to respond effectively to challenges such as East Timor and the region's recent economic crisis.

But some members - particularly those with more authoritarian governments - have raised objections, saying Asean should stick with its traditions of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

What do you think? Is Asean still relevant? Does an organisation that brings together high-tech Singapore with the rural backwardness of countries like Laos have a future? Tell us what you think. HAVE YOUR SAY An organisation like Asean is essential for the advancement of a region which is more diverse and complicated than the Balkans. It is amazing how ignorant we are of our neighbours.
Rueben, Malaysia

Who are we to forcefully impose western culture as the only way of life?

Isao Tanaka, Japan
Who gives the right for a country to interfere. Who are we to forcefully impose western culture as the only way of life? If the west can accept nudity etc, it doesn't mean that the east is stupid for not adapting to this culture. Asean must stay as it is; otherwise it will become just another regional bullying pact as seen by Nato in western Europe.
Isao Tanaka, Japan

Kipling justified colonialism as the white man's burden. The person who claims the West has a right to interfere for human rights is a modern version of Kipling. When the West carved up Africa it ignored ethnic boundaries and look at the horrendous mess it created at this date, a century later.
Ralph Sato, United States

We have a moral obligation to interfere with these countries in order to ensure people can live in safety

Matt LG, UK
I believe we have every right to preach to these countries about democracy and human rights. The Malaysian constitution maintains a similar system of apartheid against the Chinese and black Caucasian races in their society. This includes access to education, housing, jobs and many other fields. Malaysia is considered to be one of the most developed of the Asean countries. The human rights abuses in the other Asean countries are atrocious. We have a moral obligation to interfere with these countries in order to ensure people can live in safety. It is not a case of accepting the differences between cultures - human rights is not about culture!
Matt LG, UK

Asean has never been able to do anything positive apart from SEA games and an opportunity for foreign ministers to gather and play golf with each other. The aim and vision since it was formed NEVER materialised. There are countries in state of war and debilitating poverty for far too long and too serious to ignore. Basic human rights were never entertained hence the Asean community will remain "developing" countries forever...
D Ng, UK

It is looking more ragged with each passing day

Christopher Hobe Morrison, USA
Reform or die? That is pretty much the choice, isn't it? Right now it's "don't talk about my country and I won't talk about yours." I can see why Burma and North Korea could fit right in. It is looking more ragged with each passing day.
Christopher Hobe Morrison, USA

People who say the West has no right to lecture Asean on democratisation - certain government leaders in the region and other developing countries spring to mind here - are, of course, deliberately attacking the messenger and not addressing the message. The fact is there are plenty of people within Asean and other third world nations who are crying out for a more progressive, liberal society and greater individual and press freedoms. Such room for manoeuvre is an important factor in determining quality of life for many people, as well as providing the checks and balances that autocratic governments so despise.
Richard Lim, UK

What right does the West have to lecture us to be more open and more democratic?

Mohd Saheed bin Maideen, Canada
Since when did the Western countries really care for the right of Asian (ASEAN) after centuries of occupation and colonisation? What right does the West have to lecture us to be more open and more democratic? Maybe we will listen to the West only when they return all the treasure stolen from the ASEAN nations and compensate them.
Mohd Saheed bin Maideen, Canada

As a citizen of one of the member ASEAN countries, I can't see any significant benefit for any individual country apart from the fact that a membership of ASEAN automatically allows the countries to participate in the SEA games (The South East Asians games).
Haji Mohammad, Brunei

ASEAN is a very loose organisation due to cultural diversity. We are trying to set our goals and how to achieve them. We cannot afford to let each member country go its own way.
Asa Ruamsamak, Thailand

I believe in order to truly understand ASEAN and its members, we have to understand thier perspectives and how they define themselves. It would be ignorant, myopic, and arrogant if we are to understand ASEAN from a purely 'Western' view. If we compare western IGO's to ASEAN it would be an injustice because the definitions and terminology we would we be using has already a certain degree of bias. This is 'orientalism' as Edward Said wrote.
Sammy, England

Asean is by any measure an organisation that is there only to give publicity or statesman image to mostly leaders of completely corrupt administrations. Not only corrupt but nepotistic, favouritistic and administrations lacking most basic human rights.
Miklos Nomad, Hungary

Asean was created on the grounds of unity and co-operation to ensure peace and prosperity of the region

CEO H. Tran, Vietnam
Asean was created on the grounds of unity and co-operation to ensure peace and prosperity of the region, giving us ground to multilaterally barter with external powers as a whole. The principle of non-interference was one of the founding guidelines in the late 1960's and has been kept until the Thai raised the issue of intervention in E Timor.
Although E Timor is Indonesia's problem, Thai troops have been there under the name of the UN. At the moment Asean is working towards closer internal as well as external integration with the trans-Asean networks of highways, railways, power lines etc. In the near future Asean will create its own common currency to even out the effect of speculation.
We are now already converging via the currency exchange agreement to equalise regional currencies to hedge off future crisis. The state of integration is a only a decade or so behind Europe, and with the common internal tariff-efficiencies in productive countries really shows.
CEO H. Tran, Vietnam

I would imagine that they would ignore each other's views. China ignores the rest of the world's view, so why not ASEAN as well?
Alex, Wales

ASEAN never believed in poking its nose in the internal affairs of its member countries, nor will it on its own ever do so in future

Albert Devakaram, India
ASEAN is as relevant as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Group of Eight or the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to deal with common issues like forest fires, drug trafficking and any financial turmoil - as was witnessed in 1997 - facing the region.
ASEAN never believed in poking its nose in the internal affairs of its member countries, nor will it on its own ever do so in future. It does have a glorious future, provided the organisation maintains this rich tradition and does not allow itself to be dictated by some of the key regional players like the U.S., Japan or Canada in the name of globalisation or whatever in any given situation.
It must be remembered that this regional grouping has always been capable of taking nitty-gritty decisions based on fairplay and justice. Long live ASEAN!
Albert Devakaram, India

The ASEAN grouping has been a source of stability and financial benefit for more than 30 years

John Brownlee, England
It is the business of a country's people to freely decide who shall lead them and what their laws and customs will be. It is the business of every country, acting alone or in concert, to decide whether or not they agree and/ or can live with each other's policies and take action accordingly. The ASEAN grouping has been a source of stability and financial benefit for more than 30 years and little will be gained by following the example of Europe and attempting to create a super state - it will end in tears and destroy the very thing they have so carefully nurtured all these years.
John Brownlee, England

ASEAN has a significant importance in the development of South-East Asia. During the economic decline of many member countries of ASEAN including Malaysia, Singapore etc, it was important for an organisation to be united and stand up to face the financial crisis. This unity gave ASEAN a boost and confidence from Western economies with e.g. President Clinton visiting some East Asian Countries etc.
Kushal R, Mauritius Island/USA

I think that co-operation between international representatives has shown with the recent G8 meetings, that little is ever agreed upon of any worthwhile significance. Individual countries have to take their own stance if they wish things to be changed. It reminds me of a saying, which twists scripture slightly: "For God so loved the world, He didn't send a committee!"
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/ USA

As there are regional organisations like NAFTA, European Union, NATO, Organisation of African Unity, OPEC etc, to deal with issues common to their member countries, Asean could deal with topics of concern to its members such as the forest fires of Indonesia, the Spratley islands, piracy on the busy sea lanes of surrounding open waters, financial meltdown of the local economies without reference to the Western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, sharing their experience in the political and economic fields as they emerge from the recent crisis.
Mohan Singh, India

Non-interference is outdated, but "interference" as it's been practiced lately doesn't work either. There's no real coherent strategy or raison d'etre behind it.
T.J. Cassidy, USA

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reform call tops Asean agenda
19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Intervention warning in Moluccas
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