ASEAN Secretary General Assesses Burma’s Political, Economic Reforms

Posted February 24th, 2012 at 2:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations says Burma appears committed to reforms but is far from meeting the international standards.

Surin Pitsuwan's spoke to reporters Friday during a stopover in Bangkok on the third day of his four-day visit to Burma. He said he thinks Burma's leaders are committed to further economic and political reforms as long as they can control the process.

“Just like any government that has been centralized and authoritarian would like to open up, if you don't want to confront instability and tension and confrontation right away you have to be rather measured about it. And, I think they are determined to do that.”


During his visit ASEAN' secretary general met with President Thein Sein and other government leaders who he says recognize the challenges and opportunities of reforming the country.

He also met for the first time with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. He says the party's participation in free and fair elections in April would be an extremely crucial test for international confidence in the reform process.

“Precisely for that reason the international community is waiting for signals from inside whether this is going to be sustained, whether this is going to lead to more opening, or whether this is just a mirage.”

Burma is considering allowing ASEAN election observers, but Surin said an organization outside the 10-nation grouping would be better. In addition to Burma, ASEAN's ten members include developing democracies but also an absolute monarchy, Brunei, and two communist one-party states-Laos and Vietnam. The other members are Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Surin said Burma's hosting of ASEAN meetings in 2014 would help ensure it does not turn back on reform efforts. But he also noted serious preparations were needed in the country, known as Myanmar, including improving roads, telecommunications and Internet, sufficient hotel space, and a stable banking and financial system.

Surin said Burma's largely cash-only finance system is the biggest problem. He said such as system is not adequate to support hosting a year of high-profile economic and political meetings that are the responsibility of the ASEAN chair.