Foreign Minister Stubb at ASEM meeting
Intervention elements of Alexander Stubb, Foreign Minister of Finland on Regional Integration in South East Asia and on Myanmar at Dinner Dialogue on 25 May on Regional and International Developments.
9th ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting
1) On regional integration in general and common values in particular
• ASEAN is the most ambitious endeavour of regional integration in Asia. In December last year ASEAN took a big step towards deeper integration by adopting the ASEAN Charter. I will not list all the achievements entailed by it, well known to us. Suffice to say that ASEAN is now developing from a traditional regional organization to a true tool for integration in all spheres and sectors of society.
• I here want to highlight the human rights mechanism that comes with new ASEAN Charter, which I commend. With this Charter Asia will no longer be the last and only continent without a regional human rights mechanism which is excellent progress!
• I strongly believe in the power or regional integration. The closer global cooperation becomes the more need there is for small states to integrate. For the part of Europe I feel that integration has brought mainly positive things: more cooperation, more economic growth, more people-to-people understanding, more freedoms and more prosperity and last but not least: more regional stability and a lasting peace.
• Integration of states must entail integration of peoples. All major European organizations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, as well as the EU itself, are based on the painfully acquired experience that there is no room for oppressive regimes on our continent. It is difficult to see integration succeed without common values and a common commitment to human rights and democracy. Dictatorship in one state would be a thorn in the flesh to any common integration effort. As regards the endeavour of ASEAN: military rule, like that exercised in Myanmar, is not only a blemish to the public image of the happy family but effectively a real impediment to genuine regional integration.
2) On the stability of Myanmar and human rights
• Security and stability are important Asian values. We also value them in Europe. The stability and unity of the Myanmar state is a top priority not only for its own government but also for the neighbouring states, such as India, China and Thailand as well as for other states in this sub-region. This, I agree, is a legitimate concern.
• Yet, it worries me if the unity or stability of the country is invoked against appeals for human rights and democracy. I frankly disagree with that line of argument. Military rule rather defeats the purpose of stability. Protection of human rights on the other hand not only promotes stability, in the long term human rights and democracy are in fact absolute prerequisites for stability. Stability and human rights go hand in hand.
• We hope that Myanmar can look at some of its Asian neighbours to see that democracy does not mean disintegration or instability. Indonesia is a good example of this. Indonesia, a country comprising of hundreds of ethnic groups and cultures, has just shown the world through successful elections that it remains strong in its democratic path.
• Myanmar suffers from socio-economic problems and is clearly performing below its potential. The lack of development is ultimately due to military rule. The country has not seen economic growth. This, in fact, is a real threat to stability of the country. In Myanmar, there will never be prosperity and true stability if its people are not guaranteed their rights and given a truly democratic representation.
3) On the road to democracy in Myanmar
• I am eagerly but anxiously following the steps the Burmese government is taking in its Seven Step Programme. In the absence of one exhaustive definition of democracy it is often said that “you know a real democracy when you see it”. In Myanmar, when we study the new constitution we do not frankly see true democracy. We wish we could look forward to democratic elections next year but what we see so far is quite worrisome.
• Time is now running short to repair the process before the elections but it is still possible. Burmese leaders should urgently stop and start to reflect and start to engage with the opposition with due help from the good offices of the UN Secretary-General and his Special Adviser. We all support this work of the UN.
• In the light of the need to fix the political process it is ironic and deplorable that a politically motivated criminal case has been launched against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, due for release from house arrest. This criminal case is a step precisely in the wrong direction. There is an inherent contradiction between the fact that the Myanmar government is planning to hold elections with a stated ambition to move one step towards democracy and at the same time it imprisons the most important political leaders instead of including them in a dialogue of stakeholders. I call for the immediate release of all political detainees, including in particular Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Finally, in conlusion:
• We all know that Europe and Asia stands united on the fundamental need for change and inclusive dialogue in Myanmar. As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stated last October, reporting from the Seventh ASEM meeting in Beijing, all our heads of state and government jointly “encouraged the Myanmar government to engage all stakeholders in an inclusive political process in order to achieve national reconciliation and economic and social development”. In this regard, our leaders “called for the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and early further release of those under detention.”
• The European Union together with its Asian friends stands ready to reach out a hand to the Government of Myanmar in its efforts towards the common goal of peaceful transition to democracy. I encourage all governments in the Asian region to step up their engagement for our common objective in this incoming year. A failure to achieve change in Myanmar would become a threat to both stability and to regional integration in South East Asia.