The future of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), an attempt to build a better bridge between Asia and Europe, has been looking uncertain since Burma was admitted into ASEAN in July. But the implications of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' acceptance of Burma were not clearly spelled out until British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a speech in Singapore this week that the Burmese would not get visas for the second ASEM in London next year. The announcement shocked many in Asia. Not because Burma was unwanted - it has long been harshly criticised by Europe over its human rights record and thriving drug trade - but because of the resolve the West showed on the issue. The response by Malaysian premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has blasted the West time and again for trying to keep Burma out of ASEAN, was predictable. If Burma was not invited, there might not be a party. This would be a serious problem for both regions. Ever since Southeast Asian economies began to feel the effects of sharp falls in their currency values and share values, there have been calls for co-operative efforts to reduce any ill effects on trade and business relations. At the recent series of ASEAN conferences in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN foreign ministers and their dialogue partners from Europe were upbeat about ASEM. The ministers' joint communique expressed the hope that the London meeting would 'further develop a stronger Asia-Europe partnership for greater growth mutually benefiting both regions'. As for the host country, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Derek Fatchett, had said Britain looked forward to ASEM as an opportunity to promote its political ideas and business agenda. A harsher tone was taken by Manuel Marin, Vice-President of the European Commission, when he reminded delegates, while criticising the Rangoon regime, that there would be no visas for Burmese leaders wanting to visit Europe. But no one seemed to be listening to the cautionary words from the European side until Mr Cook, in his first sortie into the region since taking office, jolted his ASEAN hosts with his enunciation of the new British Government's tougher position on human rights and his attack on the Burmese regime for conspiring with drug traffickers. Now that he has barred the Burmese from entering, ASEM's future is seriously in doubt.