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13 More Countries Join ASEM

Three more nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia --and 10 new members of the European Union (EU) became participants of ASEM on Thursday.

They were officially accepted as members of the Asia-Euope Meeting (ASEM) at a ASEM enlargement ceremony in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam.

"After eight years of evolution, ASEM is now enlarged to embrace 13 new members," said Phan Van Khai, prime minister of Vietnam at the ceremony.

"This enlargement is an eloquent testimony to the success and attractiveness of the process," he said.

With the new members, the 5th ASEM summit on Friday and Saturday will be attended by state and government leaders of the whole 10-member ASEAN as well as China, Japan and South Korea, and all the 25 EU members and the European Commission.

"It is our expectation and conviction that the new members will make active and concrete contributions to our common endeavor of deepening and expanding the process, and revitalizing and substantiating the Asia-Europe partnership as well as heightening ASEM's role and position in the world arena," said Khai.

ASEM is a process of informal dialogue between Asia and Europe launched in 1996 in Bangkok, Thailand. It addresses political, economic and cultural issues with the objective of strengthening the relationship between the two regions.

ASEM summit has been organized every two years since 1996, alternating their location between Asia and Europe. Meetings between foreign and finance ministers have also been held on a regular basis.

Since the 4th summit of the inter-continent bloc in 2002, the EU has been enlarged with 10 new members and it wanted all its members to join the ASEM.

Meanwhile, ASEAN also showed its willing to have its three other members -- Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar -- to become participants of ASEM.

However, the ASEM enlargement was made only after differences had been resolved and compromises had been made between the two regional bodies, particularly over Myanmar's participation.

Some European nations, demanding the release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and the start of democratic reforms, challenged Myanmar's presence at the Hanoi meeting.

But ASEAN insisted that Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos join the summit unconditionally in return for the participation of the 10 new EU nations.

The 10-member ASEAN argued that an imbalance would emerge among ASEM if 10 new EU members were accepted while Myanmar's membership was denied.

To push the enlargement process, the Netherlands, which holds the revolving EU presidency, and Indonesia, which heads ASEAN, played their role in shuttle diplomacy to work out compromises between the two regions.

(Xinhua News Agency October 8, 2004)

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