(Updates with comments from China, Japan, Myanmar, trade deals)
By Neil Chatterjee
SINGAPORE, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Leaders of 16 Asian countries, including top polluters China and Japan, agreed to a vague pact on climate change on Wednesday, as they tried to put aside discord over Myanmar’s suppression of democracy protests.
In the declaration signed in Singapore, leaders of the East Asia Summit (EAS) committed to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the long run.
The pact will serve as a basis for climate negotiations at a major U.N. meeting next month in Bali, but it contains no fixed targets on cutting emissions or even limiting their growth by a specific date, after objections from poorer Asian countries.
"Climate change has to be addressed — but they cannot leave people in absolute poverty," Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after the negotiations.
The EAS — 10 Southeast Asian nations plus China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand — agreed that all countries should address the challenge of climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
Asked why it did not include numerical targets, Singapore’s Lee said: "This is a declaration of intent, not a negotiated treaty of what we are going to do to restrict ourselves."
Australia said the pact would make it easier to negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The U.N. hopes the Bali meeting will kick off two years of talks to agree a new framework to fight climate change.
"There has been a turning of the tide in China and India’s position — they’re saying ‘yes we need to do something to stabilise emissions’," Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said earlier.
China, the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States, and India have steadfastly refused to agree to fixed targets and want rich nations to take the lead in cutting emissions and pay for cleaner energy technology.
"Efforts to fight climate change should promote, not block, economic development," China’s Premier Wen Jiabao told the summit.
Japan pledged $1.8 billion in loans to fund green projects in Asia.
The only numerical target in the climate pact was on forest cover.
The group will work to a goal of increasing regional forests by at least 15 million hectares (37.5 million acres) by 2020.
"It’s not positive but what can we expect? We can’t expect countries like China or India to be on the same line as Japan — these emerging countries are not ready to move first," said Emmanuel Fages, carbon analyst at French bank Societe Generale.
"There’s nothing homogenous in Asia," he added.
SOURED BY MYANMAR
While the East Asian leaders tried to focus on climate change and trade, the issue of how to encourage wayward member Myanmar to embrace democracy soured ASEAN’s 40th anniversary celebrations at which the grouping adopted a legal charter on Tuesday.
The Philippines broke ranks with other Association of South East Asian Nations members and called for the immediate release of detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"We particularly deplore the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi. She must be released. Now," Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement. The Philippine Congress might not ratify the charter if Myanmar did not commit to democracy and release Suu Kyi, Arroyo said this week.
The charter gives ASEAN a legal identity, enshrines principles of democracy and human rights and paves the way for free trade and economic integration by 2015. The document must be ratified by all member states within 12 months from Tuesday.
ASEAN said a free-trade deal would be signed with Japan next year, while a deal with India might still be on for 2008.
Singapore’s Lee said Western sanctions on Myanmar were ineffective because the regime had chosen to isolate itself.
"You say I don’t want to do business in Myanmar but it’s water off a duck’s back," Lee said.
Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein told Japanese leader Yasuo Fukuda that "Myanmar hopes to surely move on with democratisation and solve problems", adding its citizens were suffering from sanctions, according to a Japanese official.
Fukuda, on his Asian diplomatic debut, gave Thein Sein a frosty response when he was invited to visit Myanmar.
"I hope you can create an environment under which I would be able to visit," Fukuda said, according to the aide.
A Japanese cameraman was among at least 15 people killed during September’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Myanmar. (Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq, Jan Dahinten, Koh Gui Qing, Kevin Yao and George Nishimaya in Singapore, and Lindsay Beck in Beijing; editing by Bill Tarrant and David Fogarty)