Tale of 2 lo­ca­tions at the ASEAN sum­mit

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY MERGAWATI ZUL­FAKAR

Ask the peo­ple around you. No, even bet­ter, look around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Is there any­thing to in­di­cate that some­thing big will take place in the city?

Can’t blame any­one, re­ally, if they are not aware that 10 ASEAN lead­ers will be here this week­end for the ASEAN Sum­mit.

An In­done­sian jour­nal­ist who was in town last week­end for a con­fer­ence was sur­prised she only saw one ban­ner on the sum­mit all the way from KL In­ter­na­tional Air­port to her ho­tel in Petaling Jaya.

Does any­body care, re­ally? We should, es­pe­cially since our daily move­ment around the Klang Val­ley is in­ter­rupted, al­beit tem­po­rar­ily.

The Kuala Lumpur traf­fic con­ges­tion will only get worse when roads will be closed to trans­port lead­ers and of­fi­cials from their ho­tels to the meet­ing venue at KLCC, and as of­fi­cials and min­is­ters from around the re­gion start ar­riv­ing in the city.

Lat­est fig­ures show some 3,000 of­fi­cials and sec­re­tariat staff will be in­volved in the sum­mit, while 800 of­fi­cials will be in Langkawi. Th­ese fig­ures do not in­clude the me­dia and se­cu­rity, which means the ac­tual num­ber could eas­ily dou­ble.

The suf­fer­ing for city folk hope­fully will end on Mon­day af­ter­noon.

By then, the 10 lead­ers and their of­fi­cials will leave for Langkawi for their an­nual retreat.

Sure, it will be smooth sail­ing for the lead­ers to hop from one place to an­other, but the re­al­ity is that for of­fi­cials who have been work­ing qui­etly in the back­ground, this is one of the big­gest night­mares for any or­ga­nizer for such a big event.

For the first time in ASEAN his­tory, the sum­mit is held in two lo­ca­tions.

When the lead­ers meet for the usual ple­nary ses­sions and in­ter­act with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of civil so­ci­ety and youth, they will also hold a retreat — a more re­laxed ses­sion where any is­sue can be raised by the lead­ers.

Pre­vi­ous ASEAN chair­men held the retreat in the same city but this time, Malaysia, for rea­sons only known to the de­ci­sion-mak­ers, in­structed that the retreat to be held in the mys­ti­cal is­land. When the Langkawi idea was mooted, some of­fi­cials ex­pressed reser­va­tions (note: they have noth­ing per­sonal against the is­land) be­cause of the mam­moth task of phys­i­cally mov­ing a sum­mit to a place out­side Kuala Lumpur.

They tried to rea­son with the de­ci­sion-mak­ers, not­ing the in­creas­ing cost and that the fa­cil­i­ties were not ready.

At one point, they thought they were suc­cess­ful in per­suad­ing that the retreat re­main in the city but some­time late last year, that de­ci­sion was reversed.

As it is, the me­dia, es­pe­cially the for­eign me­dia, are cry­ing foul.

It will be an ad­di­tional cost for all. Just like of­fi­cials, they will have to split their teams to cover the meet­ings in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. It means hav­ing to fly their re­porters and cam­era­men, rent cars and ho­tel rooms.

A for­eign jour­nal­ist who has been cov­er­ing ASEAN for more than a decade ques­tioned the un­nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial strain on the host coun­try.

“It is not just the host but trans- port­ing the other del­e­ga­tions. Imag­ine the ex­tra ex­penses for the pri­vate planes and ho­tels, all for a two-hour retreat which could have been done in KL,” he said.

“Is there re­ally a com­pelling rea­son to have the other half of the meet­ing in Langkawi?

“Jour­nal­ists don’t have pri­vate jets like the lead­ers, so me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions will be stretched thin in terms of man­power and tech­ni­cal set-up.

“At least Myan­mar de­cided to hold the two sum­mits all in Naypyi­daw last year and did not divide them with Yan­gon, which would have been a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare,” he added.

He aptly de­scribed this habit of show­ing off by ASEAN mem­bers as sym­bolic of ASEAN, which is long on cer­e­mony and ver­biage but short on real achieve­ments.

Po­ten­tial lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare aside, Malaysia is hop­ing to get the other nine coun­tries to de­clare sup­port for its move­ment of mod­er­ates, an idea mooted by Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak since 2010 which has gar­nered in­ter­na­tional sup­port.

The Langkawi Dec­la­ra­tion on Global Move­ment of Mod­er­ates is ex­pected to be adopted at the end of their two-day sum­mit.

An­other dec­la­ra­tion to be adopted is the Kuala Lumpur Dec­la­ra­tion on Peo­ple-Cen­tred ASEAN which ba­si­cally is get­ting the lead­ers to agree on cre­at­ing a peo­ple-ori­ented ASEAN Com­mu­nity where all could con­trib­ute to ben­e­fit a more in­te­grated and con­nected com­mu­nity within the re­gion.

Of­fi­cials are still work­ing roundthe-clock to come out with the fi­nal doc­u­ments for adop­tion, but what re­mains to be seen is if the peo­ple on the ground could re­ally feel con­nected to the lead­ers and ASEAN as a whole.

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