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Asian Countries Improve Economic Ties While Ignoring Other Issues


28 November, 2017

Asian nations are ignoring human rights issues to focus on trade and investment, some experts say. They say this is causing problems for Western countries that want to increase trade but also protect human rights.

The fastest-growing economies are in Asia. About 4.5 billion people live on the continent. Asian leaders rarely criticize other Asian governments for situations within their own borders. Such situations include the campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines and the conflict between Myanmar's leaders and ethnic Rohingya.

Recently in Manila, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met with representatives of eight governments, including the United States and China. The delegates did not talk about domestic problems in any of the countries. Human rights groups had urged the delegates for such discussion.

FILE - Leaders from the ASEAN and their Dialogue Partners which comprises the East Asia Summit or EAS, link hands for a brief group photo session at the ongoing 31st ASEAN Summit November 14, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. (REUTERS/Bullit Marquez/Pool)
FILE - Leaders from the ASEAN and their Dialogue Partners which comprises the East Asia Summit or EAS, link hands for a brief group photo session at the ongoing 31st ASEAN Summit November 14, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. (REUTERS/Bullit Marquez/Pool)

Daniel Chua is the deputy head of graduate studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He says he thinks Asian countries do not mix economic projects with domestic issues or human rights.

Such non-interference permits governments to focus on trade alone. But, citizens of Western countries often pressure their leaders to link human rights, labor problems or environmental issues with trade.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and President Donald Trump met at the ASEAN meeting. A Duterte spokesman says Trump did not talk about reports that Philippine police have killed thousands of people in the campaign against illegal drugs.

Duterte has criticized world leaders who have talked about the campaign, including former President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Jayant Menon is chief economist at the Asian Development Bank. He says Asian countries do not need "deep" free-trade agreements, or FTAs, that would deal with labor and pollution issues.

He says a World Trade Organization study shows that, in his words, "Asian FTAs in general are a bit more shallow than other FTAs...because they (Asian countries) are not as big as Europe or North America. To sustain themselves, they need to look outside their borders for most of their trade and investment."

When Asian leaders make trade deals with one another, such as investment in infrastructure projects, they do not include pro-labor or environmental agreements. Western governments often require such agreements as part of trade deals.

At the ASEAN meetings, a joint statement was released on a planned ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to be signed next year. The trade agreement would involve 16 countries including China and India and half of the world's population. The statement discusses trade and economic issues but not labor, the environment or human rights.

ASEAN represents 630 million people and four countries whose economies are predicted to grow more than 6 percent this year. It has trade agreements with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

In Manila, ASEAN and the United States said they would increase cooperation.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Correspondent Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section, or visit our 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

focus - v. to direct your attention or effort at something

shallow - adj. smaller

sustain - v. to provide what is needed

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