Singapore miscalculates balance of power over Burma issue

The following is a report carried by Japan‘s largest news agency Kyodo

Singapore‘s unsuccessful attempt to convince Myanmar [Burma] and China to allow a UN special envoy to Myanmar to address either a summit of East Asian leaders or a summit of Southeast Asian leaders is seen by some diplomats as a miscalculation of the balance of power in the region.

A diplomat from a member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said Singapore may have absorbed too much pressure from the United States for inviting Ibrahim Gambari to address either the ASEAN Summit or the East Asia Summit on his role in promoting national reconciliation in Myanmar.

Speaking to a handful of reporters, the diplomat said many ASEAN countries tried to “save the face of Singapore” on Monday by altering Singapore’s plan to let Gambari address either the ASEAN Summit on Tuesday or the East Asia Summit on Wednesday.

“Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win accepted the plan Monday morning, saying he would report it to his leader. But Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein strongly resisted the plan when he met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday afternoon,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. Lee chaired the ASEAN Summit and will host the East Asia Summit.

Thein Sein told Lee it is “not necessary” for ASEAN to play a role in resolving political problems in Myanmar because Myanmar can handle its own internal affairs, according to the diplomat.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also rejected the plan. Wen was quoted by the diplomat as telling the Singapore leader that he is “uncomfortable” with an invitation extended for Gambari to address either of the summits.

Wen indicated he would not listen to Gambari’s address. The diplomat quoted the Chinese premier as suggesting if Singapore sticks to the plan, it should be up to participants’ decision whether or not to listen to the envoy’s address.

Officials opposing Singapore’s initiative said they feared such an address could be a bad precedence for the East Asia Summit, which comprises 16 countries – the 10 ASEAN countries and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The diplomat said, “Singapore may have forgotten that China and India are regional superpowers and they have been supportive of Myanmar. Or Singapore may have miscalculated the game.”

On Monday night, ASEAN leaders discussed the political situation in Myanmar, which shocked the world with its violent crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters in September.

All ASEAN leaders except Myanmar stood by Singapore‘s Lee when he announced at a late night press conference that he dropped the plan to invite Gambari to address either the ASEAN Summit or the East Asia Summit, but Singapore will facilitate meetings between Gambari and “interested parties.”

When an ASEAN chairman holds a press conference to issue his statement, other ASEAN leaders do not attend, but “last night ASEAN leaders flanked Lee at the press showing their unity,” said another diplomat who also declined to be named.

Thein Sein left shortly before the press conference began.

Gambari arrived in Singapore on early Tuesday morning and met with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo later in the day. He is also scheduled to hold a group meeting with the foreign ministers from six ASEAN countries excluding Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, according to a UN media officer accompanying him.

He will stay in Singapore at least until Wednesday and he will have “many more” meetings with officials and leaders from countries attending the Singapore summit, she added.

Gambari visited Myanmar twice after the junta’s violent crackdown on the democracy protests. He met with junta leaders and pro- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, now under house arrest.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.



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