Myanmar President Thein Sein opens 47th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Naypyitaw

NAYPYITAW - Asean should share its benefits with the most marginalised sectors of the region's societies, Myanmar's President Thein Sein told a gathering of foreign ministers and senior officials at the opening of the 47th Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Naypyitaw on Friday.

"We should not forget that our ultimate aims should be to bring prosperity to our people, raise living standards, and ensure peace and stability (and) the promotion of human dignity," he said.

Mr Thein Sein, a former general credited with steering Myanmar through a sometimes rough transition to democracy after over four decades of stifling military dictatorship, added that "the absence of wars and conflicts has become a symbol of Asean", but warned that extremism was a challenge.

"Making use of improved communication and information technology, some small groups of people are exploiting the technology in order to spread hatred and to incite people," he said.

In his brief speech, Mr Thein Sein also alluded to the priorities of dealing with natural disasters and the effects of climate change.

He will be meeting Asean foreign ministers twice before the AMM, and the subsequent Asean Regional Forum (ARF), wind up on Sunday.

Myanmar's chairmanship of Asean is the country's first major international role since the switch to open markets and electoral democracy - but with the army still holding the whip hand with 25 per cent reserved seats in parliament.

Its conduct as chair has been praised as fair and even handed, but is likely to be tested in Naypyitaw as Asean comes under pressure from China to avoid criticising Beijing's actions in the South China Sea disputes with four Asean countries, most crucially Vietnam and the Philippines.

Most of Friday will be taken up by the Asean ministers' meetings, but Saturday will see a series of meetings between the foreign ministers and their counterparts from dialogue partners including China, India and the United States.

The Asean Regional Forum, an annual security dialogue, takes place on Sunday.

nirmal@sph.com.sg

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