NAYPYIDAW — Preparations are wrapping up in the capital for the first major meeting of Burma’s chairmanship of Asean, at which regional leaders, and more than 400 journalists, are expected.
The first Asean Summit of 2014 comes 17 years after Burma first joined the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Burma has declared the theme of its chairmanship—in the penultimate year before the ambitious Asean Economic Community (AEC) is supposed to come into effect—“Moving Forward in Unity to a Peaceful and Prosperous Community.”
This year is seen as an important one for Burma, which is expected to play a more active role in regional and international affairs as the country opens up to foreign investment and progresses with a program of reforms initiated when President Thein Sein took office in 2011.
Asean heads of state and foreign ministers will arrive in Naypyidaw on May 10, and the 24th Asean Summit will take place on May 11 at the newly constructed Myanmar international Convention Center 1. Scheduled meetings include talks on the AEC, an Asean Security Council meeting, an Asean parliamentarians meeting and the Asean People’s Forum.[irrawaddy_gallery]
Regional foreign ministers did meet in Bagan in January, but this meeting will be the first Asean Summit this year and the first meeting of Asean leaders in Burma.
Some of the little-used roads in Burma’s capital, which was completed less than a decade ago, have been repaired and made smoother ahead of the summit.
On Thursday, security guards stood expectantly outside the venue and hotels were ready and waiting for guests. Despite concerns infrastructure would not be completed in time to host the high-profile event, Naypyidaw appears ready.
“Everyone is ready to host the Asean Summit this coming Saturday and Sunday. Delegates will lodge in hotels located near the Myanmar International Convention Center,” Myo Myint Thaung, the director of news, at the News and Periodical Enterprise, part of the Ministry of Information that runs Burma’s state media.
“Enough security guards will be around that area.”
More than 400 foreign and local journalists have registered to cover the event. Seventy-nine foreign media organizations, represented by 145 journalists, will be present.
“There will be a media center inside the MICC. We will provide 100 computers and free Wi-Fi there, and at least 300 journalists can be in there,” Myo Myint Thaung said.
“We have experience from the SEA Games in Naypyidaw in December, so we prepared everything to be easy to access in the media center.”
However, access to some events, like the Asean leaders’ photo opportunity, will be limited. Official state media will be given priority access to meetings, and Burma’s Foreign Correspondent Club will decide who is allowed inside meeting rooms.
“We will provide photos in media center and on our website for those who can’t go inside rooms,” Myo Myint Thaung said.
Nyunt Maung Shein, chairman of the government-affiliated Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said maritime disputes in the South China Sea will likely be important issues for Asean members. Member states have overlapping claims with China to parts of the sea, and have attempted to use the regional forum to counter the regions giant neighbor.
Delegates will also review the Asean Charter and continue discussions on implementing plans for the AEC, which will reduce trade barriers and restrictions on the movement of labor in the region, he said.
“We have a big responsibility to plan the implementation of the AEC one year from now. The South China Sea will only be one of the important issues in this Summit,” Kyunt Maung Shein said.
“China is the biggest trade partner for the Asean member countries, so there are also other positive relationships between both sides.”