May 29, 2009 (AFP), Expelling Burma from ASEAN isn’t the way to bring about reform in the military-ruled nation even if it tarnishes the group’s credibility, the Singapore government said yesterday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will have greater influence on Burma by maintaining dialogue instead of isolating it or imposing sanctions, said Zainul Abidin Rasheed, senior minister of state at Singapore's foreign ministry.
Burma has been in the spotlight recently for its treatment of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial for violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.
She faces up to five years in jail if convicted in a case that has triggered strong international condemnation.
Speaking in the Singapore parliament, Zainul acknowledged that "domestic developments in [Burma] have adversely affected the reputation and credibility of Asean."
But expelling the country from the regional bloc isn’t the right way to induce reforms, he said.
"The question of expulsion or suspension which are often raised by external observers of ASEAN is not as straightforward as it seems," Zainul said, noting that Western sanctions have had little effect on the country.
"We have always believed in ASEAN that we have more influence over [Burma], however limited, through engagement rather than isolating it."
The comments echoed those of Thailand's ASEAN chair, Surin Pitsuwan, who on Wednesday said expressed concern about Burma membership in the bloc.
Speaking on the sidelines of talks between ASEAN and European Union leaders in Hanoi, Thailand's ASEAN chair, Surin Pitsuwan, warned of damage to the bloc's credibility, with Burma an ever more controversial member.
"The discussion in the room back there was that [Suu Kyi's trial]… affects ASEAN’s image and ASEAN’s collective interests," he told reporters.