For so many years international meetings meant only one thing for Myanmar: unwanted international attention. But this week’s ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh is expected to see the Myanmar government applauded for reforms undertaken over the past 18 months.
However, many Myanmar officials at the summit will have more important things to do than bask in the praise: namely, to gain insights to help them prepare for 2014, when Myanmar will chair the regional grouping.
The Myanmar delegation includes an observer team tasked with studying how major ASEAN meetings are organised, particularly in terms of infrastructure, logistics, IT, accommodation and overall management.
“We are sent under a government program as an observation team to learn how to host the chairmanship in 2014. We have only one year left and really we need to learn a lot to get up to speed,” a senior official from the Nay Pyi Taw Development Committee said, asking not to be named.
He said that as part of the preparations a convention centre is being constructed in Nay Pyi Taw near the Myanmar International Convention Center (MICC), which was built as a gift from the Chinese government.
The new centre, on a 32-acre site, is being constructed by Shwe Taung Development Construction Company, he said.
“The new centre will be bigger than MICC and will be finished by the end of 2013,” he said.
Ambassador to ASEAN U Min Lwin agreed Myanmar faces “big challenges” to be ready for 2014 but said the government had shown it was prepared to be flexible to take on the chairmanship role.
More than 1000 ASEAN meetings are held each year, with many of the major ones in the country chairing the grouping.
“They are not problems but they will be challenges for us,” U Min Lwin said in an interview with The Myanmar Times in Phnom Penh on Friday, November 16. “But as the host we can expect help not only from ASEAN nations but also its dialogue partners.”
He said Myanmar has no experience hosting the chairmanship so has been taking steps to ensure staff are trained, including in dealing with the international media.
“Japan and United States will also provide capacity-building assistance. One thing that can be a challenge for us is IT but we are trying to improve the situation and to follow the path of other ASEAN nations,” he said.
U Min Lwin said this week’s summit, which will be held today and Tuesday, November 20, will see Myanmar’s democratisation process discussed.
He paid tribute to the support of ASEAN nations for the seven-step roadmap to democracy, which many Western nations decried as a sham.
“Our President U Thein Sein has got a great deal of encouragement from the ASEAN leaders upon this process. As the president said, we will not turn back but we have to avoid things that can impact the democratisation process,” U Min Lwin said.
U Min Lwin also said there would be no bilateral meeting between US President Barack Obama and President U Thein Sein in Cambodia because the Myanmar leader would leave the summit to see President Obama in Yangon.
“[U Thein Sein] will go back to Yangon after arriving in Cambodia. That means there will not be a face-to-face meeting between the US president and U Thein Sein during the summit,” he said.
U Aung Lin, the director general to ASEAN, said President U Thein Sein would arrive in Phnom Penh on Saturday, November 17 and return to Yangon to meet US President Barack Obama early today.
Meanwhile, U Aung Lin confirmed that there would not be any discussion about the conflict in Rakhine State in the ASEAN Human Right Declaration on Sunday, November 18.