Asean Summit: All dressed up in Myanmar's capital of Naypyitaw

 A policeman walking in front of the Myanmar International Convention Centre during the 25th Asean Summit in Naypyitaw on November 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
 A policeman walking in front of the Myanmar International Convention Centre during the 25th Asean Summit in Naypyitaw on November 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

"THIS year has been not so much about Asean than about Myanmar", a European diplomat remarked at the opening of the Asean Business and Investment Summit (Abis).

Myanmar's President Thein Sein was due to arrive to deliver an opening address at the conference - at a huge convention centre in Myanmar's normally preternaturally quiet capital, where you can hear frogs and crickets outside your window in the dozens of resort hotels built in a military style "zone".

The next morning - Wednesday - the President opened the 25th Asean Summit at an equally huge convention centre five minutes' drive away on Naypyitaw's broad and usually empty avenues.

Meanwhile, a succession of leaders had been touching down at the usually underused Naypyitaw International Airport, which saw just over 10,000 passengers arrive through the whole of last year.

This week, the Asean and related summits have drawn hundreds of delegates from countries across the Asia-Pacific and 1,300 journalists, Myanmar's director-general of information Myint Kyaw told The Straits Times as he patrolled the packed media centre at the summit venue.

The leaders' convoys swept through broad avenues lined with flowers and art works, punctuated by roundabouts where huge sculptures of lotus blossoms are bathed in colourfully lit fountains at night.

Smartly uniformed police and military, complete with white gloves, waved them on. Discreetly deployed at the edges of the vast open spaces, armed police stood guard through the day in the blazing sun.

Naypyitaw, a city of around one million, has a few dozen hotels, but no markets or nightlife to speak of. There are only two or three modest-sized malls.

Not a single foreign embassy has moved here yet, preferring to stay in crowded Yangon, the country's commercial capital.

Today, Naypyitaw has a Park Royal, a Kempinski, a Hilton and several other global brand name hotels, all built recently.

United States President Barack Obama is reportedly staying at the Kempinski. About 1,000 police officers have been deployed to secure the routes he will travel in his own car - along with around 400 of his own security personnel, local media reports say.

The US made special requests to the Myanmar government for Mr Obama's visit, a senior Myanmar official told The Straits Times, without elaborating.

The point man for the all arrangements appears to have been one of Mr Thein Sein's closest ministers, Mr U Soe Thane.

 The summits in Naypyitaw mark the end of Myanmar's chairmanship of Asean, which will rotate to Malaysia next year.

   Naypyitaw may then return to its sleepy ways, and some hotels might have to mothball rooms or absorb losses until the next major event. This week, however, that is far from people's minds.

nirmal@sph.com.sg