April 3 - ASEAN begins 2-day summit, with North Korea's rocket launch and South China Sea disputes overhanging, but Myanmar the bright spot. Arnold Gay reports.
NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4 BY 3 MATERIAL The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) kicked off its biannual summit in Cambodia Tuesday, basking in the glow that its "inclusive" approach to Myanmar appears to have paid off. Often criticised for its policy of "non-interference" in members' affairs, ASEAN was roundly chastised when it admitted Myanmar into the bloc nearly 15 years ago. Critics pounced again when ASEAN promised Myanmar the rotating chairmanship in 2014 after Yangon implemented a series of reforms. This included installing a civilian government led by President Thein Sein, easing media restrictions, and freeing hundreds of political prisoners. Yangon took another critical step forward over the weekend, holding largely orderly by-elections that gave opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament. Indonesia's foreign minister Marty Natalegawa is already calling for a lifting of sanctions against Myanmar, setting the stage for a possible strong endorsement from ASEAN leaders. (SOUNDBITE)(English) INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTER, MARTY NATALEGAWA SAYING: "One thing that we are very much keen on now is to ensure that the sanctions against Myanmar be immediately lifted. It is extremely important as a symbol, a democratic dividend for a country that has begun the process of change and, this process of change must be acknowledged." As described by the host, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the focus of this summit is to turn the 10 disparate member nations of 600 million people, into a European Union-like community by 2015. (SOUNDBITE)(Khmer) CAMBODIAN PRIME MINISTER HUN SEN SAYING: "We must lay out priority actions and key concrete measures to address all the challenges and bridge the gaps which are the obstacle for the realization for the ASEAN economic community at the planned date." But other pressing issues may hog the limelight. North Korea's planned rocket launch looms over the summit. The launch has been condemned by the U.S. and its allies as a thinly disguised missile test. Regional tensions with China over disputed islands in the South China Sea are another vexing issue for the ASEAN leaders. China has competing territorial claims in the sea with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Philippines has been leading a push for ASEAN to form a united front and present China with a binding "code of conduct" for the area, but other members say Beijing should be involved from the start. Arnold Gay, Reuters.