ASEAN fights efforts to link trade, human rights
December 9, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EST (1130 GMT)
From Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are taking a united stand against linking human rights with trade.
The United States and other western countries want to include non-trade issues like labor and human rights in international trade agreements like the World Trade Organization.
But the resistance of Asian nations to link economic issues with human rights issues is as strong as ever.
"We have been very consistent in our position that the labor issues be better addressed by the International Labor Organization," said Philippines President Fidel Ramos, "and that the human rights issues be taken up in the political arena."
Western pressure regarding human rights is something ASEAN dealt with during its recent summit in the Philippines.
The United States and the European Union say they are considering sanctions against prospective ASEAN member Burma because of the country's actions against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her followers. They have asked ASEAN to delay admitting Burma as a full member.
But ASEAN leaders have long promoted a policy of "constructive engagement," saying they can bring about change more easily when an offending country is part of the fold.
"The way they (Burma) handle Aung San Suu Kyi, I think, is softer than they would have had there not been this constructive engagement," said Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. "Supposing they do not have ASEAN, which is not sympathetic to them, oh, I think, they would just act (against Suu Kyi)."
At the end of the Indonesian gathering, ASEAN announced a compromise: Burma would become a full member, joining with Laos and Cambodia, but no entry date has been set.
ASEAN leaders said human rights was not a factor in this decision. Their policy is not to interfere in the domestic policies of member countries, they said, and they won't bow to western pressure on the matter.
Host country Indonesia asked for ASEAN's support on another human rights topic: East Timor. A new agreement between ASEAN and the European Union has not been signed because EU-member Portugal wants to link EU-ASEAN pacts with East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that has sought independence since being annexed by Indonesia in 1975.
"The heads of government of ASEAN have now found it necessary to make their common position known," said Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. "It is not only Indonesia making any objections to this way of putting (forward) extraneous issues. But it is all of the ASEAN countries who object to such a thing."
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