Viewing cable 06JAKARTA3560
Title: SENATOR FEINGOLD'S MEETING WITH ASEAN SECRETARY

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
06JAKARTA35602006-03-20 08:54:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Jakarta
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 JAKARTA 003560 
 
SIPDIS 
 
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/20/2016 
TAGS: ASEAN OREP PREL PGOV AORC CH BM ID
SUBJECT: SENATOR FEINGOLD'S MEETING WITH ASEAN SECRETARY 
GENERAL ONG KENG YONG 
 
 
Classified By: B. Lynn Pascoe, Ambassador.  Reason: 1.5 (b) and (d) 
 
¶1. (SBU) In a wide-ranging discussion on February 23, ASEAN 
General Secretary Ong Keng Yong outlined ASEAN's priorities 
and challenges for U.S. Senator Russell Feingold.  He praised 
the U.S.-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership, noting that it reaffirms 
a critical relationship sometimes taken for granted in the 
region.  He explained that despite an outward display of 
comity, ASEAN had in fact exerted strong pressure on the 
Burmese regime behind the scenes.  Despite this, the SPDC 
continues stubbornly to pursue its own course, much to the 
chagrin of its ASEAN neighbors.  Ong described China's role 
in the region.  He noted that despite ASEAN's efforts to 
engage and direct its growing economic influence, ASEAN 
member states' differing degrees of dependency on commercial 
ties to China sometimes lead to frictions within the 
organization.  End summary. 
 
¶2. (SBU) On February 23, Senator Russell Feingold, 
accompanied by professional staff members Grey Frandsen and 
Evan Gottesman and Embassy political officer, met with ASEAN 
Secretary General Ong Keng Yong.  Ong was accompanied by 
 
SIPDIS 
Dhannanjaya Sunoto, Director for External Program 
Coordination and External Relations. 
 
¶3. (SBU) Senator Feingold said that as a member of the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee and its Subcommittee on East and 
Asia and the Pacific, he wanted to underscore the importance 
of ASEAN and its relations with the U.S.  He invited Ong to 
provide an overview of ASEAN's current priorities. 
 
ASEAN Priorities and Challenges 
------------------------------- 
¶4. (SBU) Ong characterized ASEAN's major project - economic 
integration of its ten members - as a long-term goal fraught 
with difficulties and often sidetracked by "distractions" and 
regional crises.  The disparity in development of ASEAN's 
member states was a challenge to economic integration, 
particularly in an age of rapid globalization.  He cited as 
one example ASEAN-wide implementation of rules of origin 
regulations.  By the time ASEAN had gotten all of its members 
on board, including economically weaker states such as Laos, 
the WTO agreed to a whole new regime, making the rendering 
the previous system obsolete.  On free trade, Ong noted that 
ASEAN's project of creating a single market was complicated 
by its members' ongoing individual efforts to negotiate 
bilateral trade agreements with major countries such as 
Japan, South Korea, and China. 
 
¶5. (SBU)  The rise of Chinese economic power, Ong said, was 
also a challenge.  Rather than standing by passively, Ong 
said, ASEAN had tried to engage China in order to channel the 
relationship and avoid being dominated.  This collective 
approach was however undermined by competition among ASEAN 
members for Chinese investment.  Moreover, ASEAN had to deal 
with concerns about China's ascent on the part of Japan, 
which presents itself as a well-established friend of the 
region, and India, a new partner and emerging power. 
 
¶6. (SBU) Ong explained that ASEAN's leaders had in recent 
years been confronted by pressing matters which had 
distracted them from the economic integration projects.  One 
was terrorism.  Another was "viruses:" avian flu and SARS. 
Finally, member state politics were sometimes in a challenge. 
 Given the history of some of its member states, Ong said, 
ASEAN "has nothing against military governments per se," but 
the repressive Burmese regime had become highly problematic. 
 
Burma 
----- 
¶7. (C) Senator Feingold asked how ASEAN deals with the 
problem of Burma given its doctrine of non-interference in 
the politics of member states.  Secretary General Ong replied 
that while ASEAN governments maintain an appearance of comity 
to the outside world, they have in reality exerted strong 
pressure on the Burmese government behind the scenes.  At the 
last ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur, one ASEAN Minister had 
called the SPDC's actions a "slap in the face" of the 
organization.  Ministers had also charged that the Myanmar 
problem was "taking up too much time" in ASEAN's external 
relations.  ASEAN, Ong said, had also been dismayed by 
Burma's surprise decision to move its capital. 
 
 
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¶8. (C)  Most of all, ASEAN states had been angered by the 
SPDC's refuse to receive Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah 
Badawi as ASEAN envoy, Ong said.  The Burmese Foreign 
Minister, he said, had initially agreed to this.  The SPDC, 
he continued, had then turned off the visit on the pretext 
that it was "too busy" with other matters, but ASEAN had 
noted that the regime was apparently not too busy to send 
Prime Minister Soe Win on an official visit to China.  This 
showed that the Foreign Minister was only empowered to 
consider ASEAN proposal but that commitments could only be 
made by General Than Shwe, who never attends ASEAN events, 
Ong explained.  He commented that it was difficult to engage 
the Burmese because their envoys frequently use rhetoric 
replete with references to openness and democracy that seems 
to express accommodation of ASEAN's concerns.  This 
impression, Ong said, is always dispelled by the SPDC's 
subsequent actions. 
 
US-ASEAN Partnership 
-------------------- 
¶9. (SBU) Senator Feingold thanked Ong for his comments and 
commended ASEAN's efforts to effect positive change in Burma. 
 He stressed the importance of the US-ASEAN Enhanced 
Partnership.  Ong agreed, noting that it highlights the 
importance of ASEAN's ties with the U.S. at a time when the 
relationship is sometimes taken for granted because of the 
region's seeming preoccupation with countries such as China 
and India.  Ong said he was pleased that President Bush met 
with seven ASEAN leaders at the APEC meeting in Korea to 
launch the agreement.  He stressed that ASEAN accepts that 
the U.S. role in the region was critical, and in more than 
just a military sense.  The US-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership, he 
said, demonstrates that the relationship was on a sound 
footing moving forward in spite of the Burma issue. 
 
China's Role 
------------ 
¶10. (SBU) Senator Feingold ask for the Secretary General's 
assessment of China's role in the region.  Ong said that 
Chinese influence was growing rapidly and that its effects 
were "not all positive."  ASEAN, he noted, adhered to a 
doctrine of "balance and parity" in its relations with 
outside powers.  China, he said, finds it difficult to accept 
this, believing that it does not reflect economic reality. 
Economic and commercial ties to China vary among member ASEAN 
member states, Ong pointed out, and this proves problematic 
in countries with strong links to China such as Cambodia, 
Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.  For these countries, their 
relations with China sometimes take priority over their ties 
to smaller, more distant fellow ASEAN members.  Despite ASEAN 
programs designed to counter this, this dynamic is becoming a 
problem.  The more deeply China becomes involved in the 
region, the more disruptive it becomes, Ong said.  He noted 
that the current chill in Chinese-Japanese relations was also 
perceptible in an ASEAN context. 
 
¶11.  (SBU) Ong also mentioned the Chinese role in the East 
Asia Summit.  Since China had failed in its bid to dominate 
the event, he said, it was now in "listening" mode on the 
process, and would see how it developed further.  During 
talks on summit modalities, Ong said, ASEAN had discreetly 
urged China to "back off" because its overbearing manner was 
intimidating other members.  In the end, Ong said, ASEAN had 
taken the lead at the first East Asia Summit. 
PASCOE