Asean ministers said yesterday they would not bow to international criticism and break down the wall of silence surrounding one another's internal political and human rights records. But they would tolerate a partial break with tradition to allow members to comment on domestic issues with regional implications. Singapore Foreign Minister Shunmugam Jayakumar, who yesterday chaired a four-hour session to rethink the 10-member grouping's future, cited the example of the region-wide haze resulting from Indonesia's forest fires. 'Asean felt that the time-honoured traditions of Asean . . . have stood well in the past 30 years. We should not abandon them,' he said. However, while saying the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must not abandon consensus, consultation and non-interference in members' domestic affairs, he asked: 'Without abandoning them, how can the organisation and its members face new challenges that will have to be confronted by Asean? 'Challenges such as good governance, democratisation, human rights and so on. These are challenges which Asean must face . . .' Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said: 'Clearly, Asean's core principles of sovereign equality, consensus decision-making, non-interference in each other's domestic affairs and open economies have served us well.' But while criticism of Asean may not be valid, it did exist and needed to be dealt with, Mr Goh told ministers. 'We cannot pretend all is well or that there are no disagreements or new challenges,' he said. 'The first step in dealing with any problem is to recognise that it exists.' Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said: 'As a political grouping, Asean has prospered over the years because its members adhered closely to the spirit and codes in the conduct of our relations with each other. We should not accept those [modus operandi] which are alien to our national psyche and hurtful to our national objectives.' Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Nguyen Manh Cam, suggested setting up telephone hotlines, particularly between Asean leaders. He also called for increased working visits by leaders and senior officials. 'At the same time, the 'Asean way' should be preserved and applied in resolving outstanding issues and preventing new disputes from arising,' Mr Cam said. Their comments follow mounting criticism over the failure of Asean countries to speak up over human rights abuses, political suppression and blatant economic mismanagement and corruption in some member countries. Some critics suggest the baht might not have collapsed in 1997 and resulted in regional financial crisis if Thailand's neighbours had been brave enough to speak up and apply pressure when they saw its policies going off track. Asean responded by recently setting up a regional economic surveillance forum in conjunction with other East Asian countries and the Asian Development Bank.