By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
THE NATION, SINGAPORE
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivers his speech during the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related meetings in Singapore, 13 November 2018. Singapore is hosting the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings under the theme 'Resilient and Innovative' this year. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
THAILAND has proposed to host the first Asean Summit of the year in June instead of April when Bangkok chairs the group in 2019, as the country is worried about a delay in the next general election, sources said yesterday.
It is an obligation of the chair country to host two summit meetings of its leaders, one limited only to 10 members early in the year and another one with partners later in the year.
While the Thai Election Commission has denied the possibility of delaying the election tentatively scheduled for February 24, there is the possibility of the poll being held any time between February and May.
People take pictures with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (C-R) during the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related meetings in Singapore, 13 November 2018. Singapore is hosting the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings under the theme 'Resilient and Innovative' this year. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
Timing the first Asean Summit during the Thai chairmanship for June would be rational in case the election was delayed until May. That would leave sufficient time for the new government after taking office, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has made a commitment to the international community to hold an election almost every time he has travelled abroad, avoided any mention of the election while delivering his speech at the Asean business forum in Singapore. “It is a great honour for Thailand to assume the chairmanship of Asean in 2019 after Singapore,” he said in his keynote speech in Thai on the second and final day of the Asean Business and Investment Summit.
“I give you my word that Thailand will continue to push for connectivity among Asean members in both the public and private sectors in order to strengthen businesses and investments in Asean, making Asean an outstanding destination for trade and investment for the global business community,” he added.
Leaders of 10 Asean members, together with counterparts from Asia and the Pacific, gathered in the city-state to discuss a wide range of regional and global issues, including the Rakhine crisis, the South China Sea conflict, the situation in the Korean Peninsula as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) regional integration scheme.
The leaders of the group yesterday explored the possibilities of their involvement in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to the strife-torn Rakhine state, but as of press time there remained no clear solution on the matter.
Under the agreement reached at the end of October between Bangladesh and Myanmar, 485 Rohingya families – a total of 2,260 people – are to be returned to Myanmar starting on November 15. Myanmar has said that it will process 150 returnees per day.
The Asean members stressed the need to have voluntary repatriation and wanted Myanmar – a bloc member – to address the root cause of the issue. The group wanted to have a mechanism to deal with the Rakhine crisis with participation of past, current and future chairs of the group, as well as other concerned countries.
Unless the group can reach a consensus on the solution, Thailand as the next chair must carry on the mission, an Asean official close to the matter said.
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her keynote speech at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related meetings at in Singapore, 12 November 2018. Singapore is hosting the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings under the theme 'Resilient and Innovative' this year. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in Singapore for the summit, made no public statements on the Asean proposal, but a source said Myanmar badly needed an Asean hand to cope with the Rakhine crisis.
“We need to solve the problem within the regional framework, before it can be brought to the United Nations Security Council,” an Asean official said.
More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled from violence in Rakhine since August last year when militant groups attacked security outposts, prompting a disproportionate reaction framed as a “clearance operation” by the Myanmar military.
Investigations conducted by the United Nations and many others including NGOs and media found signs of ethnic cleansing and atrocities against Rohingya, and the UN human rights body called for referring the case of “genocide” to the Internal Criminal Court or other international tribunals.
As the next chair, Thailand will need to carry on negotiations on the RCEP as Asean and the six partners from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand are unlikely to reach substantial conclusions on various disputed issues, including chapters on competitive policy, during the summit this week.
Launched in 2012, the RCEP negotiations have faced slow progress due to the differences in the stages of economic development of the members.