High expectations as Myanmar takes ASEAN helm

Myanmar.jpg

High expectations as Myanmar takes ASEAN helm
Myanmar's President Thein Sein (L), the next chairman of the ASEAN Summit, raises the ASEAN Gavel after receiving it from Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah during the closing ceremony of the 23rd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, October 10, 2013.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein (L), the next chairman of the ASEAN Summit, raises the ASEAN Gavel after receive it from Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah during the Closing Ceremony of the 23rd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, October 10, 2013.

Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief in Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) IN LESS than two months' time, a brand new sports complex in Naypyidaw will play host to the opening ceremony of the South-east Asian Games, Myanmar's first in 44 years.

Hotels and restaurants have sprung up in Myanmar's capital, barely eight years old, to cater to visitors from nine other ASEAN countries in what officials see as a test run for the country's debut chairmanship of the regional grouping from next January.

But Naypyidaw lacks direct international flights and Internet connectivity is weak.

A number of regional diplomats remain sceptical that Myanmar will be able to get in place all its physical infrastructure to host hundreds of meetings next year. But they hope its chairmanship of the 46-year-old grouping will move ASEAN forward as a community with a year to go before the end-2015 goal, and at a time when great-power rivalry in the region is set to intensify.

Myanmar's leadership of ASEAN comes as the country continues to embark on wide-ranging reforms after two decades of autocratic rule and Western sanctions that saw ASEAN's policy of engagement criticised and drove the country to defer taking its turn as chair seven years ago.

Its dramatic opening up of late has seen a flurry of investor interest and a construction boom, and its neighbours are pitching in to help.

"Several of the ASEAN-6 countries, including Singapore, have been working with Myanmar through bilateral and ASEAN programmes, to provide capacity- building support to officials at various levels involved in preparing for the slew of meetings in 2014," said Ms Moe Thuzar, a former Myanmar diplomat, and now coordinator of the Myanmar Studies Programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

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