Anti-regime protesters in Yangon staged a assemblage adjoin ASEAN in February. / The Irrawaddy
By Johanna Son 14 March 2021
ASEAN hasn’t been accepting admirers from its administration of the Myanmar military’s coup. But if it is able to ability a new template, the alignment may still calculation as the best businesslike bet for accepting a chat activity with that country’s men in compatible in adjustment to, first, stop the barbarous crackdown on its people.
If the band were an armed accumulation of earnest takers — some ability acquisition that an apt description — ASEAN is actuality looked to as a adjudicator to accessible advice curve to the earnest takers.
This may be an abhorrent role, but a all-important one in the deathwatch of the Feb 1 aggressive coup.
By now, aloof about every country, from China and Japan to the United States to the European Union, as able-bodied as the United Nations, has said they are attractive to assignment with ASEAN as an amateur in the Myanmar equation.
The catechism “what can ASEAN do?” can be burst bottomward into these: What ability it tap into from its “constructive engagement” with Myanmar decades ago, or its accepting been a non-threatening arch to the alfresco apple afterwards the Nargis adversity in 2008? Is there a assignment from how ASEAN has been able to accelerate altruistic aid to Rakhine?
These accept been ASEAN’s way of working, generally beneath the radar. It has had a accord with Myanmar from the time the aggressive active the country. Over the aftermost decade too, Southeast Asian — and East Asian — countries accept congenital bread-and-butter links with Myanmar, so that Singapore is its better antecedent of adopted investments and Japan, its better aid donor.
How are these engagements accordant today? The crisis challenges ASEAN to about-face its not-so-nimble attributes into a apparatus for negotiation, alike realpolitik, afterwards crumbling time.
While ASEAN “emphasizes the accent of listening,” it needs to be bright to Myanmar’s aggressive about its expectations and accent that advice does not advise angary of any sort, Indonesia’s above adopted abbot Marty Natalegawa told Al Jazeera, application the chat “junta.” Unlike before, Myanmar today is an cabal to ASEAN – a affiliation that Western governments do not have.
Indonesian Adopted Abbot Retno Marsudi says the country is in blow with the aggressive and the adopted legislators in the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (National Parliament). Indonesia and Singapore accept announced out adjoin the agitated crackdowns and killings of peaceful protesters, and alleged for absolution Myanmar’s adopted leaders.
At the UN General Assembly’s breezy affair in February, added ASEAN countries bidding affair that assorted in specifics, dash and some language.
Among East Asian countries, Japan’s agent to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama met the military’s adopted minister, U Wanna Maung Lwin, on March 8 and conveyed Tokyo’s alarm for a stop to the abandon adjoin civilians and the absolution of all detainees.
“China is … accommodating to acquaintance and acquaint with all parties on the base of apropos Myanmar’s ascendancy and the will of the people, so as to comedy a effective role in abatement tensions,” Adopted Abbot Wang Yi said on March 7. China’s angel botheration — abounding in Myanmar accept that China was abaft the accomplishment — has fabricated it harder for it to be heard.
Could ASEAN, asserting its centrality, use its actuality “friend to all, adversary of none” to ability a affiliation that mixes the western access of targetted sanctions with its appearance of dialogue?
Beyond Old Ways
“The present crisis cannot be affected by anniversary ancillary put into a rather acute situation, authoritative it a zero-sum game. At the end of the day, agreement is the alone way out,” Soe Myint Aung of the Yangon Centre for Absolute Research told a altercation by Singapore’s ‘Straits Times’. “Many bodies in Myanmar see this as a attempt amid acceptable and evil, but we should still accumulate some blah areas open.”
“It’s difficult. It’s challenging, but every footfall appear accepting a advance starts with mediation,” agreed Moe Thuzar of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “We accept a disconnected society, area polarizations can either account those capacity to go added or, through arbitration and bringing bodies to the table, you can maybe try to minimise the able animosity of radicalization.”
Moe Thuzar appropriate “creative” options such as ASEAN advising the UN in a “consultative mechanism” of countries, or application a “friends of the ASEAN secretary-general” tack. Soe Myint Aung says ASEAN could name a appropriate agent for Myanmar not aloof to allocution to the military, but actualize amplitude to host a chat with adopted noncombatant leaders. Bring in countries that are accomplished and approaching ASEAN chairs, Moe Thuzar adds, as this will be a abiding activity of architecture structures and habits against noncombatant rule. “It’s not an burning delight moment.”
The Myanmar crisis has put the spotlight on how address charge appearance after-effects on the ground, activity far above negotiating the diction of statements.
The art of address can acquiesce parties to allocution afterwards formally recognising anniversary other. Meetings can be non-meetings and non-papers broadcast to acquiesce altercation of acute topics. ASEAN means acquiesce account to be activated in non-official advance such as anticipate tanks. Address can disentangle abroad from the accessible glare.
Natalegawa said he hopes there is “already a script” for ASEAN’s administration of the crisis. But Singapore’s Prime Abbot Lee Hsien Loong has said that ASEAN and outsiders had “zero influence” on Myanmar in the past.
Watched online by abounding in amid nightly internet shutdowns, the Myanmar insurgence shows that the arena is absolutely altered from alike a decade ago. Area address plays out in added quiet ways, today’s ambiance and agenda habits affectation a claiming in that actual little is advised said or done until it is acquaint online or said in accessible spaces.
The Myanmar public, in fact, has already become allotment of ASEAN’s absolute constituency, whose angle it needs to agency in, not atomic in answer why a chat needs to be captivated with accomplishment makers who are afterwards legitimacy. Bounded is local, and bounded is regional.
This was axiomatic in the backfire Indonesia got afterwards a Reuters address said that Retno Marsudi was to ask the aggressive to accumulate to its antecedent affiance to authority a new acclamation aural a year. ASEAN governments got a bright bulletin about what is unacceptable at a time aback adolescent bodies apperceive they are in a affiliated all-around community.
As protesters see accompany and kin beaten, arrested or dead (more than 90 so far), it becomes harder to explain to them that in ASEAN terms, its two statements accept gone added than afore by cogent Myanmar, in diplomatese, to attach to its acknowledged charge beneath the ASEAN allotment to the aphorism of law, built-in government and axiological freedoms.
Could ASEAN change with the times, amend its worldview with its constituents’ expectations about “doing the appropriate thing” and use this to body consensus? Citizens in the region’s beneath than autonomous settings acquisition the atrocity in Myanmar alarming too. This is a actual low bar aback reputational accident is real, and rising, with any assurance of accepting of the junta.
These days, placards in Myanmar seek “R2P” or the “right to protect” activity beneath a UN action apparatus meant to anticipate accumulation murders such as those in Rwanda and the above Yugoslavia. But abounding accept said this credibility to apocryphal hopes and disappointment.
In Southeast Asia and elsewhere, the disapproval of afflictive behaviour in their midst, can, and has, lasted for abounding years.
Indonesia dealt with about three decades of criticism of its activity of East Timor, which became absolute in 2002 afterwards it — not outsiders — absitively to authority a referendum. The Khmer Rouge dead added than 1.5 actor Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. Their abhorrence against Vietnam afterwards it invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge led ASEAN, the United States and China to aback the genocidal group’s control of Cambodia’s UN bench until the eighties.
These are from the past, but accommodate a absoluteness analysis that acknowledged or moral angary do not consistently appearance all-embracing relations or realities.
Diplomats like to alarm ASEAN a ancestors whose associates sit at the aforementioned table admitting disagreements. Indeed so, but as in absolute life, ancestors ties can be the best baneful relationships of all.
(Johanna Son, Bangkok-based/founder editor of the Reporting ASEAN series, has covered Southeast Asian issues for three decades. Her angle are her own.)
You may additionally like these stories:
Can ‘Friendly Persuasion’ Bring an End to Myanmar’s Deadly Stalemate?
Responsibilities and Opportunities to Save Myanmar
Fear is the Glue That Holds Myanmar’s Aggressive Together
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