(Updated 1:14 AM, 29 November 2004)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that he will not sign a non-aggression pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ahead of group's tenth summit in Vientiane, Laos next week.
Howard's actions is in line with his policy of using pre-emptive strikes in fighting terrorism. However, support for the treaty is seen a sign of good will and a prerequisite for further bilateral agreements with Australia.
The pact called the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia which was first signed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore on 24 February 1976 in Bali, Indonesia. It is one of the 10 member nation grouping's founding documents. The treaty binds a country against the use of aggressive force and non-interference with ASEAN member states. Japan, China, India and Pakistan are some of the nations that has signed the agreement with the Southeast Asian nations.
New Zealand, represented by Prime Minister Helen Clark will also join the summit along with Mr. Howard and ASEAN leaders including the Philippines' President Gloria Arroyo.
The start of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between ASEAN, New Zealand and Australia is the expected outcome of the summit.
What does this mean?
Australia may have a hard time negotiating for a free trade deal with Southeast Asia. It also challenges PM Howard to modify or abandon his pre-emptive strike policy.
If Australia wants to push for economic and peaceful ties with it's northern and north western neighbours Canberra must respect their sovereignty. Problems are solved better with consensus.
How about speaking out?
Signing the TAC will forbid a foreign government in commenting against domestic policies. Is it wrong for a nation to speak out against wrong doings in another country? What if speaking out will put pressure to governments to stop it's abuses against its own people. For example, the human rights abuses by the junta in Myanmar is nothing new but ASEAN members who are TAC signatories are unable to comment or act against the abuses. Also if nations signed a TAC with South Africa it would not have pressured the racist pro-apartheid government to yield to the demands of the international community.
Unfortunately not all ASEAN countries enjoy a "high standard of democracy" like in Canada, New Zealand and Western Europe. (I must say that the Philippines enjoy and good standard of democracy and human rights.) Human rights abuses are prevalent (eg. Myanmar). Signing the TAC will tie hands and silence voices. This I believe is the weakness of the ASEAN TAC
ABC Online: ASEAN treaty push sparks war of words
INQ7.net: Australia irks Asian countries for rejecting peace pact
NBR NZ: NZ invited to first Asean summit since 1977
XTRA MSN: NZ Considers ASEAN Free Trade Deal
NZ Herald: Clark steering clear of Asean-Australia treaty row
ASEAN Secretariat: Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia Indonesia, 24 February 1976
Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Human Rights
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