Friday, August 18, 2017

Myanmar’s thumbs up on the ASCC

Myanmar was frown upon as a member of ASEAN when it joined in 1997. At the time, Myanmar was not a democratic country. However, after the 2015 November free and fair election, this once isolated nation has been radically transformed.

Vonthep lauds Myanmar’s steadfast contribution to Asean. Photo - Asean SecretariatVonthep lauds Myanmar’s steadfast contribution to Asean. Photo - Asean Secretariat

Now it is led by National League of Democracy under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, it took a lapse of 7 years before Nay Pyi Taw made its presence felt inside the grouping. As the 2014 ASEAN chair, Myanmar proved beyond any doubt that it could be a committed member that can strengthen and push for progress within ASEAN.

Since then, among the new ASEAN members –Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia –Myanmar has been one of the most active members in implementing agendas contained in the three pillars of ASEAN Community –the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Social and Cultural Community (ASCC).

According to Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN Vonthep Arthakaivalvatee, who is in charge of the ASCC, Myanmar’s political reform permits active engagement of the civil society and NGOs in national reconciliation process and rebuilding efforts. He reiterated that commitments in ASEAN would buttress Myanmar’s will to work toward a people-oriented and people-centered country. “Commitments in ASEAN further encourage Myanmar to pursue a people-oriented and people-centered society,” he said.

In wide-ranging interviews both in person and through emails, Vongthep has given the thumbs up for Myanmar’s overall performance and progress in the ASCC, which is considered the most important pillar in the ASEAN community-building. In the ASEAN Vision: Forging Ahead, ASEAN has outline a total of 137 action plans, which all member countries must implement in order to build an inclusive, sharing and caring community.

He pointed out that the most prominent contribution of Myanmar to the implementation of the ASCC is when Myanmar was the Chair of ASEAN in 2014. Under the theme “Moving Forward in Unity to a Peaceful and Prosperous Community”, Myanmar focused on strengthening the solidarity of ASEAN and promote the grouping’s vision as a community that is inclusive, sustainable, resilient, and dynamic and engages and benefits the people.

Before the establishment of the ASEAN Community, sectoral bodies under the ASCC were already developing their work plans and post-2015 strategic objectives to implement the ASCC Blueprint 2016-2025. An example is the 23rd ASEAN Labour Ministerial Meeting (ALMM) on May 22, 2014 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, which requested the Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM) to develop its post-2015 strategic objectives towards the vision of a better quality of life and decent work for all, productive employment, skill development, competitive workforce, affordable and accessible social protection for all, and harmonious and progressive workplace.

Under the Myanmar’s chairmanship, Vongthep reiterated that Nay Pyi Taw played in important role in deliberating the findings of the Mid-Term Review of the ASCC. The review can be used as a guide in implementing the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision, including the proposed mechanism within the ASCC pillar to work in phases starting with addressing the MTR recommendations including looking for an appropriate resource mobilisation strategy.

Another contribution of Myanmar, he added, was the reviewing the implementation of overall plan of ASCC, discussing and agreeing with the operational orientation of ASEAN in the Socio- Cultural areas in the post 2015 and preparing for the 25th ASEAN Summit.

Progress was made in ASEAN as well as in Myanmar in implementing the five priorities in 2014, including the establishment of a multi-sectoral special task force for the management of natural disaster risks mitigation and humanitarian assistance efforts, in generally completing the content of ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate change in order to enhance cooperation in response to climate change, according to the deputy secretary general.

Another significant contribution of Myanmar to ASEAN process, he emphasised, was a place to exhibit to the world the success of ASEAN-led relief effort for cyclone Nargis, and brought confidence to implement several programs that opened Myanmar to aid from a global community. Since then ASEAN has become stronger in preparing and responding to disasters through several mechanisms, policies and coordination process in place, such as AHA Centre, AADMER Fund (ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response), the AADMER partnership conference and most recently the Declaration on One ASEAN One Response that was signed by ASEAN Leaders in Vientiane last year.

Lately, in responding to the earthquake in Bagan in August 2016, Myanmar is also working on a proposal to mobilise resources and share knowledge, especially amongst ASEAN+3 countries, to promote cooperation on Disaster Risk Management for Cultural Heritage Sites, according to Vongthep. The experience of humanitarian assistance during the Nargis crisis has enabled Myanmar to mobilise the resources in a timely manner.  

In addition, Myanmar successful proposed to establish the ASEAN Institute of Green Growth Economy (AIGGE) during its chairmanship. The institute aims to address multi-sectoral issues and facilitate the joint efforts of ASEAN in studying and using green technology for development.

As far as the information and media is concerned, Myanmar has been active in further strengthening cooperation to promote ASEAN awareness, and to collaborate towards supporting the development of the social responsible media in ASEAN, amongst others.  Since then, social media has become a key agenda among ASEAN senior officials dealing with media development cooperation.

The number of internet users in Myanmar has been increasing significantly.  In 2009, just 0.2 percent of the 56-million were connected to internet. Last year it increased to 19.3pc or more than 96 times increased over 7 years. As such, social media has become a useful medium for the people’s access to news and media products. At the moment, the new Broadcasting Law is pending. It is hopeful that the law will enables private companies to enter the broadcast market for the first time. With that, the censorship has been relaxing and paved the way for the development of the media industry.

In terms of people-oriented and people-centered policy Myanmar has made substantive progress because of wider political and economic reforms in the country. These included political reform permits active engagement of the civil society and NGOs in national reconciliation process and rebuilding efforts.

Other issues such health or education, Myanmar also has been proactive in participation in all Asean-led activities in the past six years. For example, on health, through its Ministry or Health, they contributed to the implementation of the specific regional health activities in the ASEAN Strategic Framework on Health Development (2011-2015) and ASEAN Post 2015 Health Development Agenda (2016 to 2020).

According to Vongthep, Myanmar has led the ASEAN efforts towards the elimination of malaria in the region by developing the work plan for eliminating malaria in the region for 2011 to 2015. They are currently engaged in the implementation of region-specific and country-specific activities in addressing drug-resistant Malaria in the border areas of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, through the Regional Artemisinin-resistant malaria Initiatives (RAI) funded through Global Fund.

In the case of education, Myanmar is finalising national qualifications framework (NQF) on education that will allow the country to participate more effectively in ongoing ASEAN efforts in harmonising and making education (especially higher education) comparable within ASEAN. This includes discussion on internationalisation and quality assurance of higher education.