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Shangai Organisation : ASEAN shows the way to SCO

Posted by Kris Roman on August 3, 2008

RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev

The foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have met in the capital of Tajikistan for the last time before the SCO summit in August, to approve the agenda.

The SCO is a regional organization comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese colleague, Yang Jiechi, have come to Dushanbe from Singapore, where they attended a security forum held by ASEAN. Before that, they held bilateral talks in Beijing.

Flying almost parallel courses to Dushanbe is not a coincidence. Major Asian powers, Russia and China are very active in Southeast and Central Asia and are full members of ASEAN and the SCO, a Central Asian organization similar to ASEAN.

In Singapore, the foreign ministers concluded an interesting diplomatic project, which can and should be used at the SCO as a model and as a precedent.

The United States and the European Union accused one of the ASEAN member states, Myanmar (formerly Burma), of failure to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe after Cyclone Nargis hit the south and east of the country on May 2 and 3, 2008, resulting in nearly 138,000 people dead or missing.

One of the vulnerable elements in SCO history is the killing of unarmed protesters by the Uzbek government in Andijan in May 2005.

There could be other similar incidents in the member states of both organizations, but is this enough for the Western public to demonize them?

Myanmar knows that blows against one’s reputation can be followed by airstrikes, like in Yugoslavia in 1999 or a softer but no less dramatic attack as in Indonesia, when it lost part of its territory in 1999, now called East Timor.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has so far refused to admit East Timor. The organization does not like the Myanmar military regime either, but it likes foreign interference in regional affairs even less. This is why Myanmar’s partners and neighbors resolved to uncover the truth.

Last May, the West launched a verbal attack at Myanmar, accusing the regime of inability to help hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims and refusal to accept Western humanitarian aid, inferring that “humanitarian intervention” was needed in this situation.

This is when the government of Myanmar, ASEAN and the UN released the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, which provides the first comprehensive picture and objective analysis of the devastating impact of the cyclone on the Myanmar people. The report includes facts and figures, while media attacks on Myanmar are nothing but empty words.

The PONJA report does not mention hunger or health epidemics, which the media alleges have begun and which they blame on the Myanmar government.

The weeklong ministerial meeting in Singapore began with extensive discussions of Cyclone Nargis and the PONJA report. While ASEAN analysts were preparing the report, diplomats tried to convince Myanmar leaders to stop the hysterics and accept foreign aid. Illogically, the regime ordered troops to protect the country from U.S. warships carrying humanitarian aid.

Singapore, which at present holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, organized the diplomatic action. Foreign Minister George Yeo has given significant interviews before the report’s publication, saying that ASEAN decided to “separate politics from humanitarian efforts and concentrate on helping the people first.”

Assistance to Myanmar, which is “part of the family,” he said, “lays the groundwork” for change there, including the 2010 elections. ASEAN is doing its best to encourage such change.

Nobody can accuse Singapore of anti-Western paranoia. “We must always keep our doors open to the Americans, to the Europeans, to everybody, this is an open house,” George Yeo said, meaning that the action to help Myanmar was not anti-American but pro-ASEAN.

The SCO has a similar ideology. The point at issue is not about allowing foreigners into Central or Southeast Asia; what matters is who calls the tune: regional, local or foreign politicians.

The ASEAN ministerial meeting in Singapore also addressed the territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, which is another useful example for the SCO, as Tajikistan again quarreled with Uzbekistan shortly before the meeting in Dushanbe.

There are no regional associations where all member states love each other without distinction. On the contrary, the more there are neighbors, the more frequently they argue. But neighbors also have common interests, and their organizations should know how to protect these interests.

The SCO should be grateful to Singapore for providing this example.

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