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Elevated focus on Rohingya issue may hamper ASEAN ties: Former Singapore FM George Yeo tells a discussion

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DE Online Desk
Former Foreign Minister of Singapore George Yeo has said if Bangladesh wants to get closer to the ASEAN, such as becoming its sectoral dialogue partner, it has to view the Rohingya issue from the regional bloc’s view also – in which Myanmar is a full member.
“You need to incorporate the view of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), not dismissing the importance of the Rohingya issue but also not allowing it to become such a dominating issue,” he said addressing a discussion here in the city.
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, hosted the discussion as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series, titled “Bangladesh and ASEAN in a Multipolar World” at Hotel Renaissance in the city’s Gulshan area.
George Yeo said now Bangladesh wants to be a sectoral dialogue partner of the ASEAN, with one issue dominating the agenda.
Otherwise, Yeo, who held multiple cabinet positions besides the foreign minister’s in his distinguished career, feels promoting Bangladesh as a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN can be done “without too much difficulty, if you put in the diplomatic footwork.”
Terming the Rohingya crisis a human tragedy, the former Singaporean foreign minister in his keynote address said, “There is no simple solution. Because the problems are rooted in history and the solutions could be rooted in history.”
Responding to a question, he said ASEAN didn’t condemn the Rohingya genocide when it happened as it considers it an internal political problem. “ASEAN has tried to separate the humanitarian issue in Rakhine estate from a political issue,” he said, adding that ASEAN doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its member countries, reports UNB.
Among the ASEAN members, the Muslim countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, also Singapore are sympathetic towards the Rohingya people. Others don’t have the same view. Laos has shared traditional relations with Myanmar, he said.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya is a side issue but in Bangladesh it is a central issue, he continued.
Focusing on the development of Bangladesh, George Yeo highly praised the recent progress of the country in different economic and social indexes.
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Cosmos Foundation president, scholar-diplomat, and former Foreign Affairs Advisor of Bangladesh Caretaker Government chaired and conducted the discussion, while Enayetullah Khan, Chairman of the Cosmos Foundation, delivered the welcoming remarks.
Dr Chowdhury said the discussion on ASEAN and Bangladesh is a timely one and the deliberations at this time are apt for two broad reasons.

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