By WILLIAM BOOT
SE Asia’s Poor Countries Hope for Aid at Pattaya Summit
Southeast Asia’s poorest countries are likely to secure life-saving financial aid at the East Asian summit in Thailand this weekend.
The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are holding economic revival talks with big power neighbors China, Japan, India and South Korea. Australia has also been invited.
The fourth annual get together—already postponed because of political unrest on the streets of Bangkok last December—was originally planned to discuss a wide range of issues, including promotion of free trade agreements in the region. But the worsening global financial crisis has changed the agenda.
“It will get less media attention, but this summit is really Asia’s equivalent of the recent G-20 gathering in London,” said an economic official at a European Union embassy in Bangkok, who spoke to The Irrawaddy this week on condition of anonymity.
“Hopefully, it will produce more solid results than London did. This one will be dominated by China, which will seek to strengthen its trade deals in the region. Japan will most likely offer new trade-linked aid, and some of the poorest countries, including Burma, should get some benefits.”
The summit is being held in the Gulf of Thailand seaboard town of Pattaya, near Bangkok.
Bangladesh Seeks China Cash for Railway to Burma
Bangladesh will not be at this weekend’s East Asian Summit in Thailand but its bid for aid will be tabled there. The Dhaka government is asking China to finance its plan to build a 128-kilometer stretch of railway between Dohazari in Chittagong to Ramu, adjacent to the border with Burma at Cox’s Bazaar.
The track is intended to be part of the trans-Asia railway scheme being pushed by the United Nations to help develop the region.
The Burmese military government has shown reluctance to support the plan, said the Daily Star newspaper in Dhaka, which notes that Naypyidaw is nevertheless a signatory to the scheme along with 28 other countries.
“The response from Beijing to provide financial and technical assistance is expected to be positive,” the Daily Star quotes an unnamed communications ministry official saying.
Bangladesh believes that China is keen to develop a railway network that would eventually link the Bay of Bengal port of Chittagong with Kunming, capital of China’s southwest Yunnan province, which borders northern Burma.
Burma and Bangladesh have separately agreed in principle to develop road links, but recent border tensions have shelved the plans.
Daewoo Clings to Offshore Site Claimed by Burma, Bangladesh
South Korea's Daewoo International says it has obtained permission from Burma’s state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) to extend its exploration of a controversial offshore site at the center of a recent naval confrontation between Burma and Bangladesh.
In a brief Korean stock exchange statement, Daewoo announced it was assuming a 100 percent development right on the Bay of Bengal AD-7 block after two Indian state firms and the Korea Gas Corporation gave up their shares.
The announcement contradicts reports last December that Daewoo was giving up exploration of the site because of a territorial dispute between Burma and Bangladesh. The navies of Burma and Bangladesh had a brief confrontation late last year around a drilling rig the Daewoo-led venture had installed at the site.
Analysts say the decision by Daewoo and MOGE will exacerbate tensions between Burma and Bangladesh and undermine United Nations efforts to get both countries to present final offshore national boundary claims under the International Law of the Sea timetable.
Indian Envoy Investigates Burma Border Trade Problems
Continuing problems in improving cross border trade between India’s northeast state of Mizoram and Burma have been the subject of an investigation by India’s ambassador to Burma, Alok Sen.
Indian media reports say that Sen made a three-day visit to Mizoram to look into several issues, including plans for a river transport improvement project on the Kaladan waterway down to the Burmese port of Sittwe, to be funded by the Indian government.
Sen reportedly visited the border crossing point of Zokhawthar, where India has also financed road improvements.
“He came here to see for himself the difficulties of border trade,” said a spokesman for Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, quoted by the Mizzima news service.