NAY PYI TAW: This new administrative capital of Myanmar has probably never been this busy since the 2013 South-East Asian Games that had 4,730 athletes competing.
Its name meaning “seat of Kings” in the local language, the capital is only about eight years old.
The hotels here, which number as many as 53 and with more than 4,000 rooms available in total, are said to be mostly occupied at this time.
Visiting the capital are leaders of the 10 Asean nations, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and others as well as their entourages who are gathering for the Asean Summit.
Myanmar is playing host for the first time since it became a member of the regional grouping in 1997.
In 2006, Myanmar had to forego the Asean chairmanship following fears that the United States and other western nations would be boycotting the ever important Asean Regional Forum – an Asia Pacific multilateral platform for consultations on peace and security issues.
At that time, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and Myanmar was on the receiving end of economic and political sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union.
Myanmar has come a long way since then.
This Asean chairmanship is recognition of sorts for Myanmar’s political reforms under the leadership of its President Thein Sein.
Politicial observers said this is an opportunity for Myanmar to be viewed as a responsible member of the international community.
This convergence of Asean leaders on Nay Pyi Taw will not be some ordinary gathering because there are critical concerns that need to be dealt with.
Vietnam and the Philippines have issues with China over the South China Sea, for one, and there have been a series of potentially explosive confrontations over disputed territory recently.
Next, with just months to go before the realisation of Asean Community 2015 the leaders will push for implementation of remaining action lines under the roadmap.
Malaysia will helm the grouping when the Asean Community comes into being next year and Najib is expected to play an integral role in discussions on the matter.
He will stress to his Asean brethren the need to strengthen the grouping’s spirit of cooperation so that the nations can be more united in facing challenges.
The members’ commitment towards the realisation of the Asean Community will be evident, with this taking up a huge chunk of what will be the Nay Pyi Taw Declaration.
Also expected is the members reiterating their commitment to establishing a unified market that is production based, among other goals.
So important is this that a political observer opined that Myanmar’s Asean chairmanship success depends on how well it can maintain the momentum of the Asean integration process.
“The momentum is crucial because Asean has targeted next year to achieve full political, economic and social integration,” she said on condition of anonymity.
The weather is extremely hot in Nay Pyi Taw now.
Air-conditioning in the meeting rooms of the Myanmar International Convention Centre will no doubt be on full blast, but many expect the room temperature to still match that outside.