Chirac: Asia - EU Ties Based on Trust; France Sees Harmonious Relations in a Changing World

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SINGAPORE (AP) French President Jacques Chirac said that Asia and Europe should have relations based on trust, days before countries from both regions hold talks that nearly were scuttled over Myanmar and its human rights record.

The European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are bitterly divided over Myanmar. European countries, concerned about Myanmars poor human rights record, initially threatened to back out of the talks if Myanmars military junta was represented.

Chirac, in an open letter published Tuesday in Singapores Straits Times newspaper, urged Europe and Asia to aim for harmonious ties in a changing political world.

"New powers and new players are already carving a role for themselves, especially in Asia," Chirac wrote. He did not specify any particular powers.

"We need to develop and maintain an ongoing dialogue between these powers and the regional groupings, such as ASEAN and the EU," he wrote. "We are moving towards a time when political, economic and cultural influence will be more and more widely shared."

Chiracs comments came ahead of a two-day Asia-Europe summit that involves ASEAN and starts Thursday in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The French leader wrote that he hopes for more "relations between Asia and Europe based on trust," which would "help forge the harmonious international order that we are hoping to achieve."

Military-ruled Myanmar a main sticking point in Asia-Europe relations is one of 13 new members to be admitted to the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, whose leaders will be meeting in Hanoi.

However, Myanmar will be represented at the Hanoi talks by a government minister, not its head of state, in a compromise with the European Union, which had refused to attend if Myanmars Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt was coming.

Chirac was set to make a half-day stop in Singapore on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before departing for Hanoi.

ASEM groups the 25 EU members and a dozen Asian countries, including ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China.

ASEANs members are Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei and Cambodia.

Diplomatic bickering

HANOI (AFP) A new round of diplomatic bickering is expected at this weeks summit of European and Asian leaders in Hanoi over the deep inter-regional divisions on how to push through democratic change in Myanmar.

Although European diplomats insist the political situation in the military-ruled country will not overshadow the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which opens here on Friday, they say it will be on the agenda.

"Its not going to be the centre of attention but it will certainly be raised and dealt with. We will convey our continuing sense of deep concern to the ASEAN side," said one Hanoi-based diplomat.

Myanmars refusal to allow political freedoms has haunted relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) since the country formerly known as Burma joined the bloc in 1997. …