10/23/2009, 00.00
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Economy, environment and human rights at the centre of ASEAN summit in Thailand

by Weena Kowitwanij
Ten-member ASEAN summit opens with speech by Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva who is promoting the idea of an “ASEAN Community” to strengthen cooperation in the areas of economics and human rights. A special TV channel will follow proceedings and discussions live.
Hua Hin (AsiaNews) – The 15th ASEAN summit opened today in Hua Hin, a sea resort in southern Thailand, some 200 kilometres from Bangkok; participants will focus on the economy, environment, human rights and education.

ASEAN is an association of ten South-East Asian nations. Delegations from six member states attended the opening ceremony today, with the other leaders scheduled to join the evening dinner reception.

In his opening address, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva listed the “many challenges” association members must be faced: a global economy, tsunami, SARS, bird and swine flu.

In stressing the importance of unity and cooperation, he said, “Together we are able to overcome those challenges by building a community that is more people oriented. Governments alone cannot accomplish mutual objectives, we need [. . .] to push forward the ASEAN Community and [. . .] contribute” to “sustainable growth”.

At the end of the summit, a joint declaration will be made on human rights, education and climate change.

For people, “ASEAN should be a symbol of hope and value,” the Thai prime minister said. The summit, he believes, should reach a “concrete outcome”, unlike previous meetings that failed, especially in the area of human rights, with a view to realising an ASEAN Community by 2015.

“I firmly believe the ASEAN Community should be a community of action, a community of connectivity and a community of peoples,” Abhisit said in concluding his speech.

The Association of South-East Asian nations or ASEAN was created in 1967, and now includes ten member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

As of 2006, it had a combined population of some 560 million and a combined gross domestic product of almost US$ 1.11 trillion.

Member states have different political institutions, ranging from an almost one-party state (Singapore) and an absolute monarchy (Brunei), to a Communist regime (Vietnam and Laos) and a military dictatorship (Myanmar).

In the past, this diversity has prevented the association from taking a united stance on human rights, hence the idea of setting up an Inter-governmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) to deal more effectively with the matter.

As part of the summit, Thai authorities set up a 24-hour TV channel, ASEAN TV, to cover proceedings, interventions, and proposals, as well as discussions.

Broadcasting began this morning at 9.30 am with speakers from all member states and subtitles in English.

Delegations from China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia are expected to arrive tomorrow.

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