ASEAN leaders urge unity to beat financial crisis
Southeast Asian leaders today called for urgent cooperation and reform to tackle the global financial crisis, as they pushed on with their dream of forming an EU-style community by 2015.Updated: Mar 01, 2009, 15:15 IST
Southeast Asian leaders called on Sunday for urgent cooperation and reform to tackle the global financial crisis, as they pushed on with their dream of forming an EU-style community by 2015.
Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint statement on the meltdown on the final day of a summit that has been dominated by concerns about their export-driven economies.
In the statement they called for "bold and urgent reform of the international financial system" to tackle the worsening crisis, while agreeing to "stand firm against protectionism."
They further urged developed and developing countries to show "more coordinated action... to restore financial stability and ensure the continued functioning of financial markets."
The leaders also signed a declaration on setting up an ASEAN community within the next six years that is aimed at protecting the diverse bloc of around 570 million people from future economic turmoil.
Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also currently chairman of ASEAN, said the leaders "have sent a clear signal about our guidelines to solve economic problems in the region."
He outlined further steps in a press conference, including that ASEAN members should keep each other informed of their economic policies and closely monitor for any hints of protectionism.
ASEAN, with a combined gross domestic product of around 1.4 trillion dollars, had until recently been a relative bright spot in the world economy.
But because the region is largely dependent on exports, it is at the mercy of the chaos in the rest of the world's economies. Singapore is already in recession and Thailand's economy shrank in the last quarter of 2008.
Leaders underscored the importance and urgency of the so-called Chiang Mai initiative -- a regional emergency fund set up in 2000.
Foreign ministers from ASEAN and from China, Japan and South Korea agreed one week ago to extend the initiative to 120 billion dollars, but gave no date.
ASEAN signed a free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand Friday.
Ministers on Sunday also signed an energy agreement to allow members to buy oil at a discount during times of crisis.
Analysts warned however there was little the group could do to counteract slumping demand for its exports.
"They can try to keep a brave face," said David Cohen, Singapore-based regional economist with research house Action Economics.
Splits over protectionism have also called the 42-year-old organisation's unity into question.
Abhisit and Singapore Premier Lee Hsien Loong have repeatedly urged against protectionist tendencies but Malaysian Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said it is normal during a crisis.
The economic crisis has been overshadowed at times during the summit by human rights issues, even as ASEAN leaders attempted to talk up a regional rights body that will be set up under the group's new charter.
Activists were angered Saturday when the premiers of Cambodia and military-ruled Myanmar barred two civic representatives from attending rare face-to-face talks with the 10 ASEAN leaders.
The proposed rights body has also come under fire for being effectively toothless with no powers to investigate or prosecute abusers.
Rights are a perennially thorny issue for ASEAN. The bloc has been accused of failing to use its influence to effect change in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the army since 1962 and is accused of gross rights violations.
Leaders said they had urged Myanmar at the summit to continue its so-called roadmap to democracy, but Abdullah admitted that detained opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi's name had not been mentioned.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.