Monday, September 25, 2017

Myanmar played key role in AEC formation, says ASEAN’s Mochtan

Asean Deputy Secretary General of Community and Corporate Affairs AKP Mochtan has described Myanmar as a “very capable” member of the regional grouping that provided the strong foundation needed for the setting up of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

During the interview, Mochtan touched on various subjects, from Rakhine State and migrant worker protections to the admission of Timor Leste into the regional bloc. Thiri Lu/ The Myanmar TimesDuring the interview, Mochtan touched on various subjects, from Rakhine State and migrant worker protections to the admission of Timor Leste into the regional bloc. Thiri Lu/ The Myanmar Times

Myanmar chaired the group in 2014, providing the vital leadership and connectivity for member states to realise the group’s economic plans set out in the AEC. The country joined ASEAN two decades ago but was not able to chair or represent ASEAN until 2014.

In an exclusive interview with the The Myanmar Times on June 19, Mochtan describes Myanmar-ASEAN ties and ASEAN’s challenges.


Can you please tell us the purpose of your visit to Myanmar this time?

The main purpose is basically to attend a round table on climate change, the role of ASEAN in climate change and international politics. Several times Myanmar has hosted environment related meetings.

I attended senior official meetings in NPT and there was also the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) that met in Mandalay that also discussed the environment. So, Myanmar is taking a very active initiative, especially in the environment, climate change and to bring together, actually, stakeholders and donor countries to assist ASEAN projects and activities. This is the main purpose. I will also be visiting the Institute for Green Economy in Yangon, which was established during Myanmar’s chairmanship in 2014. We would like to see the institute’s progress.


ASEAN is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Can you please list the three biggest challenges the grouping will be facing in the next decade or two?

Basically, to me, there are two sets of challenges. One is community-building. In that sense, we are actually tackling three challenges. One is the people, the second is the people, and third is the people, meaning that ASEAN is inspired to be people-oriented, people-centered. Also we are inspired to be an ASEAN that is a community of opportunity and are hoping that it will benefit people and people can participate in the community-building process. To me, this process is ongoing and is like a marathon. We need to continue and to share it with the younger generation and entrepreneurs. ASEAN is rooted in this. And this is the core, this is the essence of ASEAN. In terms of ASEAN organisation, there will be three challenges. I call it three Cs. One is cohesiveness – basically the unity of ASEAN – second is centrality and third is connectivity. These are the three Cs challenging ASEAN. In order to be a solid organization, ASEAN has to have solidarity and be united on issues, like the issue of climate change that we are going to discuss today. ASEAN has to have a very strong command position; the key is One ASEAN, One Response. Centrality is important for ASEAN to be able keep the leadership in ideas and processes. At the East Asia Summit, ASEAN is able to give suggestions and proposals that bring together all partners into very beneficial leadership for all. Also, we have a master plan on connectivity. It is about physical connectivity, about institutional connectivity and about people-to-people connectivity. So, these are actually challenges as well, because ASEAN is huge. In physical connectivity, we are talking about infrastructure, we are talking about road, land, rail and air and maritime connectivities. These are very important for ASEAN.


What is your assessment of the ASEAN Community as it enters its second year?

We are on track with the action plan. We have plans we wish to achieve because of the ASEAN Vision 2025. It is still a work in progress in its second year, of course, but it’s only about 20 percent of what we want to achieve. It is important that we are continuing with this mechanism this year, including close coordination, because many of the tasks are spread across different sectors. For example, the issue of climate change can be economic, political, and it can be social and cultural, so how we coordinate this is very important. As we go along, we strengthen coordination of the mechanisms that now exist. Perhaps, at the end of this year, we will be able to tell what needs to be adjusted and what needs to be strengthened in our effort to meet the target of the 2025 vision.


Myanmar is a latecomer to ASEAN. Can you please give your latest assessment of its efforts to integrate with ASEAN.

As you know, Myanmar assumed the chairmanship of the group in 2014. It was its first chairmanship, 17 years after joining the regional grouping. It was a very important year because the ASEAN Community began in 2015. ASEAN, under the chairmanship of Myanmar, met the requirements for the preparation of the ASEAN Community. I think Myanmar is now very capable, providing good leadership for ASEAN as well. Let’s look back to Myanmar not only when Myanmar become the ASEAN chair. I recall U Thant, who was the first Asian to head the world in the United Nations. So, Myanmar has that capability, of course. Now Myanmar is going through a transition, a democratic process, and everything is in place. We are very encouraged by Myanmar. In the economic and business spheres, in 2014, we were going back and forth to Myanmar. I did not see the Hotel Melia, for example, it was not here. In less than three years, so many new facilities are now in Yangon, which demonstrates how vibrant Myanmar’s economy is as an ASEAN member state. It is very important because it links the concept of ‘one production, one marketplace’. So I think Myanmar will continue to be a very capable and important member of ASEAN.


Myanmar has a huge number of migrant workers in ASEAN. What are the measures that ASEAN has adopted to protect migrant workers?

On the protection and promotion of migrant workers, ASEAN has been discussing this for some time. In fact, that declaration came from the leaders back in 2007. So, there have been discussions, and hopefully, there will be a concrete structure to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration by the 31st summit in November this year. That declaration will factor in the entire life cycle of migrants and will stipulate the responsibility of the sending state and recipient states. We are hopeful the Ministry of Labour and Manpower will finalise the document in time for adoption by the leaders in November. I think there is very good progress in that direction. Hopefully, that will enhance the rights of migrant workers. We are not talking about only Myanmar workers. Other countries are also sending workers, for example Indonesia is sending them to Malaysia. So, it will not only be looking out for Myanmar, but for all ASEAN member states.

The ASEAN Charter needs to be reviewed after five years. Have there been any discussions about amending the charter so far?

Well, the review in fact can be more accurately described as updating. For example, the current charter mentions that the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights should be established. It was established in 2009 after the charter was framed. So then, this is factual updating. Also, some of the main texts will be updated as we now have two annexes. The first is the Sectoral Body and the second is the Entities Associated with ASEAN. In terms of entities associated with ASEAN, we have included a number of entities like the council of ASEAN chief justices, which we would like to include in the annex of the charter.


Myanmar held a retreat for ASEAN foreign ministers to brief about Rakhine State. What would be the appropriate role of ASEAN in providing assistance to Myanmar?

Actually, it is a very good initiative for Myanmar to share what it happening, and then to update the member states on the situation there. For the ASEAN member states, they are willing to provide help. Now the question is, how can ASEAN assistance be effective and timely as required by Myanmar? So, for example, Indonesia has been working with Myanmar in providing school buildings. This is an example how ASEAN member states can offer help to Myanmar.

I believe ASEAN members will be ready to support Myanmar’s requests.


Critics often say that ASEAN is soft on China and sometimes biased against the US. Do you think ASEAN has maintained laudable relations with key major powers?

Relationship is not about being soft to one and being strong with the other. ASEAN relations are inclusive. So ASEAN has the term ‘dialogue partners’, which are very close partners of ASEAN. We have very close engagement with our dialogue partners. ASEAN is open and inclusive, and it does not have a preference to be soft on China and hard on the United States. We are having constructive engagement, not only with dialogue partners, but also with the rest of the international community. ASEAN maintains constructive engagement. It is important to know that ASEAN believes in the concept of a community of nations. It believes in ASEAN centrality, ASEAN leadership, ASEAN cohesiveness. To me, there is no such thing as ASEAN preferring China or the United States.


You have been a strong advocate of media role in promoting ASEAN. What should be done to improve news coverage in ASEAN ?

Since it is the digital era, social media spreads news very fast, but you don’t know whether the source is reliable or not. Therefore, the media must be reliable with accurate sources of information. I always trust journalists because I believe they will do a check and recheck of the data. That is one role of the media, to be a reliable source of information and accurate. Second, as I said, news is very fast moving. What I wish to have more from the media are stories about ASEAN and people. This is important, because again, coming back to my previous point, what are the challenges of ASEAN? It is the people, the people and the people. We can share not only news, but also stories – success stories. I do not want to just see small entrepreneurs in Myanmar. They do not have to be in Yangon but can be in different places like Bagan or Mandalay. How does ASEAN tourism year, for example, benefit? What is the ASEAN declaration on education? Has it benefited schools in different parts of Myanmar? That is the second thing I wish from the media. And the third point is the official language of ASEAN is English when it comes to meetings and discussions, but in many parts of our member states, we have national languages. We have Bahasa in Indonesia, Vietnamese language, and most of the population still relies on their national language. So the question is how will the media spread the stories about ASEAN in local languages? My last point is that the media should use social media as a news platform. So, how do we do this in the digital community to spread stories about ASEAN?


Timor Leste expressed interest in joining ASEAN more than 15 years ago. What is the prospect of ASEAN having its 11th member?

We have talked about the requirements, whether Timor Leste is ready to meet its obligation and responsibility, and members have studied the political, security, economic and social cultural aspects. The findings will be input for discussion by ASEAN foreign ministers. But on the membership issue, ASEAN is working with Timor Leste on capacity-building and has invited Timor Leste to take part in ASEAN activities and projects. Capacity-building on some of the activities will be relevant to Timor Leste, but not in policy-making and more technical aspects. Hopefully, when the discussion is completed, we will have clear answers about Timor Leste’s membership.