ASEAN Peace Initiative and the Myanmar Crisis: A Failed Attempt?
Historically, ASEAN has been closely linked with Myanmar. As a member of the Southeast Asia region and a member of ASEAN, Myanmar enjoys great importance. ASEAN has often been criticized outside the region for its role in Myanmar since the days of the Cold War. The rejection of the 1990 Myanmar electoral verdict by the military regime and the subsequent brutal crackdown on National League for Democracy (NLD) activists and protesters placed the ASEAN regional group in a dilemma. Nonetheless, ASEAN did not abandon Myanmar and continued to be a member. ASEAN has done very little against the brutality and atrocities of Myanmar’s military regime against the Rohingya, who constitute the largest group of stateless people in the world. The displacement of over 2 million Rohingya out of Myanmar, including 1.1 million in Bangladesh, has failed to attract the considerable attention of its members to take effective action against the military.
Nonetheless, ASEAN is a key multilateral platform for regional dialogue as well as for the promotion of peace and stability in the region and in particular in Myanmar in the context of the post-military coup in the country. . On February 1, the Burmese army seized power. The country’s political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been arrested. Since then, protests have taken place in the country. More than 832 civilians, including children, have been killed in two-and-a-half-month protests by the military and police in Myanmar, according to the right-wing group Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP). More than 3,000 demonstrators, including journalists and artists, were arrested.
ASEAN is seeking talks between Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the government of the military junta Min Aung Hlai to restore peace to the country. He sees no alternative to the Myanmar peace talks. For this, the group proposed mediation to bring all the conflicting parties into the discussion. At the same time, the alliance leaders agreed in principle to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar. As a result, ASEAN convened a special and emergency summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, in April 2021 to discuss a way forward to overcome Myanmar’s domestic political crisis.
Supreme coup leader Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Jakarta on his first overseas trip since the military coup in Myanmar and joined the special meeting of the 10-country ASEAN regional alliance. During the summit, ASEAN leaders voiced demands such as stopping the bloodshed in Myanmar in the name of suppressing protests, keeping the door open for talks, restoring democracy and release of political prisoners. Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, host country of the summit, stressed that the junta government must promise to end violence in Myanmar. Democracy, stability and peace must be restored. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhiuddin Yassin called for an end to the ongoing killings and atrocities in Myanmar, reiterating: “I hope Myanmar will unconditionally consider Malaysia’s offer to immediately release political prisoners. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long expressed hope that the military will comply with the call and initiatives of ASEAN countries to restore peace in Myanmar.
After the summit, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi gave a press conference on behalf of the group. He expressed his deep concern at the ongoing violence in Myanmar. The number of murders and injuries continues to increase. There is no sign of restoring democracy to the country. ASEAN issued a statement expressing a “five-point consensus” on the Myanmar crisis. He called for an immediate end to the violence, a dialogue between all parties concerned and the mediation of the dialogue process by an ASEAN special envoy, the provision of humanitarian aid through the channels of the ASEAN and a visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN Special Envoy to meet all concerned. parties. ASEAN hopes to initiate a longer-term framework process, starting with ending the violence that will help facilitate dialogue among all stakeholders in Myanmar, and not just with the military regime.
On the ground, the ASEAN peace initiative has raised more questions about its implementation. The Myanmar junta government paid little heed to ASEAN’s peace initiative and the diplomatic advances of ASEAN that followed. He even blatantly failed to keep his own words promised at the special summit. Protests have continued in many parts of the country since the meeting, as many have been killed, arrested and attacked by security forces. More worryingly, the military regime, in total violation of the spirit of the summit, has launched an initiative to dissolve the National League for Democracy (NLD), a party that swept the 2020 elections with a landslide victory by winning 399 seats surpassing the number of 322 seats won in 2015. It won over 80% of the vote, proving its period popularity among the masses in Myanmar. Myanmar’s military-appointed election commission chief Thein Soe has declared the possibility of dissolving the NLD over allegations of fraud. He literally killed the prospect of any positive change through the ASEAN peace initiative. In addition, opposition political parties and leaders of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) have also expressed doubts about the success of the peace initiative due to ASEAN’s ineffective and moderate approach to the government. of the junta.
In this context, a prosperous regional organization like ASEAN cannot remain inactive in the face of such acts by the Myanmar military regime. As part of its short-term role, ASEAN should, at least, approach the situation in a way that would allow for an open discussion on any urgent action its member states can take to defuse political tensions, prevent the outpouring. blood and put an end to hostilities perpetrated by the military junta. This could help prevent loss of life and further deterioration of the economic and political situation in the country. ASEAN should treat the Myanmar issue as a matter of the utmost urgency precisely because of two important considerations. First, it is essential that ASEAN have the primary responsibility for responding to the current political crisis in Myanmar which has a colossal impact on the fundamental principles of democratization, human rights, human security and sustenance of people. The second essential factor is to avoid the recurrence of the ripple effects that the ongoing political unrest in Myanmar could have cross-border and regional repercussions. In particular, this would have a negative impact on neighboring countries. For example, if the crisis reaches an unprecedented level and is not resolved peacefully, it will produce more or less similar cross-border repercussions, exemplified by the consequences of the student uprising of 1988 and the elections of May 1990.
The mass exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh is the greatest tragedy in the contemporary world linked to the actions of military leaders in Myanmar over the decades. To prevent these cross-border problems and consequences from recurring, ASEAN member states must face the Myanmar debacle with firmness and determination. ASEAN can, at least, exert effective pressure on the military junta to respect above all the results of the elections of November 8, 2020, release Suu Kyi and all political detainees, then return to the negotiating table and discuss with the legally constituted and democratically elected authorities of the NLD on how they can work together to resolve their differences. ASEAN and the rest of the international community must not allow the political situation in Myanmar to deteriorate further as this will lead to the aggravation of an already dire situation for its people and the region. ASEAN member states must respond to the call of the people of Myanmar for help and assistance. Their safety and security depends heavily on the continued support of the international community in general, ASEAN in particular. Experts argue that ASEAN’s success or failure in providing a solution to Myanmar’s crisis would determine its final score in the larger geopolitical strategic game. This is even truer when global and regional powers are engaged in a geopolitical rivalry sacrificing the interests of people, including marginalized communities such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. The failure of ASEAN will turn into a disaster for regional diplomacy in the face of the Burmese crisis.