Prime Minister Hun Sen surprisingly stands up to Myanmar’s generals – Universities
Kornelius Purba (The Jakarta post)
Sat 6 Aug 2022
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen deserves applause from ASEAN leaders. Thanks to his unexpected denunciation of the head of Myanmar’s military junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, the regional bloc’s foreign ministers managed to unanimously recommend severe punishment for the savage army general, including Myanmar’s temporary expulsion from ASEAN.
I recognize Hun Sen not because I’m Indonesian or because I’m afraid of him. I must point out that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo played a behind-the-scenes role in the tremendous progress ASEAN has made in its relations with the junta. It was Jokowi who proposed the emergency summit in Jakarta to discuss ASEAN’s collective response to Hlaing’s coup against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It was also Jokowi who constantly pushed the reluctant Brunei Sultan Hasanal Bolkiah, ASEAN president at the time, to get tough with the junta.
In his opening speech at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday, Hun Sen said ASEAN will not be held hostage by Myanmar.
“All ASEAN member states are deeply disappointed and disturbed by the execution of these opposition activists despite calls from me and others for the death penalty to be reconsidered in the name of political dialogue, peace and reconciliation,” said the Cambodian leader.
Before the foreign ministers met their dialogue partners and hosted the ASEAN Regional Forum, they issued a 119-paragraph joint communiqué that included four points on Myanmar. Interestingly, the ministers’ recommendations on Myanmar were in the penultimate paragraph, as if to limit any dramatic effect.
The ministers refrained from explicitly calling on their leaders to suspend Myanmar’s ASEAN membership. After welcoming Hun Sen’s initiative on Myanmar, in Article 117, ministers expressed disappointment at the foot-dragging on Myanmar, and urged their leaders to take the final decision on the fate of General Hlaing, who expressed his satisfaction with the execution of the four anti-coup activists.
“We recommend that the ASEAN summit [in Phnom Penh] assess progress towards the implementation of the five-point consensus by the State Administrative Council to guide the decision on the next step,” the ministers wrote.
The five-point consensus, agreed by ASEAN leaders and General Hlaing in Jakarta on April 24, 2021, reads as follows:
First, there must be an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties must exercise the utmost restraint.
Secondly, a constructive dialogue between all the parties concerned must be engaged in order to seek a peaceful solution in the interest of the people.
Third, a Special Envoy of the ASEAN President should be allowed to help mediate the dialogue process, with the assistance of the ASEAN Secretary General.
Fourth, ASEAN will provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Center.
Fifthly, the special envoy and the delegation must be able to visit Myanmar and meet with all the parties concerned.
Foreign Ministers also had intensive discussions on the millions of minority Muslim Rohingyas persecuted by Myanmar’s regime. Ministers expressed their concerns in three paragraphs of the joint communiqué.
Hun Sen’s reversal will pave the way for a more unified ASEAN stance on Myanmar. While it will remain difficult for ASEAN to expect Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to drop his support for his general friend from Myanmar, at least he will be less outspoken against ASEAN’s stronger stance. . As predominantly Buddhist nations, Vietnam and Laos are emotionally closer to Myanmar, but are unlikely to act against ASEAN.
Many, including Indonesian officials, feared that Hun Sen was simply following the former ASEAN chairman’s tactic of trying to buy time when the Cambodian leader took over last year. Brunei’s sultan had sought to let Myanmar “overcome its internal affairs”, even when the junta defied the five-point consensus.
ASEAN has also been traumatized by Hun Sen’s maneuver to withdraw any criticism of China from the draft joint communiqué that ASEAN leaders issued at their summit in Phnom Penh in 2013. This time, the Cambodia has not stopped ASEAN foreign ministers from expressing concern about the situation in the South China Sea.
Hun Sen first tried his own method to persuade the Burmese junta to follow his advice, rather than strictly follow the five-point consensus. But just before he left for Myanmar to meet the junta leader, President Jokowi phoned the Cambodian leader and reminded him not to jeopardize the consensus.
ASEAN’s strengthened stance against the brutal Burmese junta will shield the regional bloc from criticism from Western countries at the ASEAN Regional Forum.
Some media described the Phnom Penh meeting as being overshadowed by tensions in Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei a few days ago. But the trip has also been a blessing in disguise for ASEAN, as this week’s forum has become an opportunity for warring parties to engage with each other courtesy of their host, ASEAN.
Whatever the motive for Hun Sen’s about-face, he has helped ASEAN achieve a historic milestone.
ASEAN can now take the opposite position of its 2014 decision on Myanmar. At that time, the bloc granted the President of Myanmar, General Thein Sein, the opportunity to host the ASEAN summit for the first time in 14 years that the country was part of the regional bloc, due to its impressive achievements in leading the country towards democracy.
Now, regional leaders should have the political courage to suspend Myanmar – but not expel it – from ASEAN, while General Hlaing is in power. There is no hope that the army general will suddenly “repent” of his bloodthirsty rule.
Again, thanks to Hun Sen, it will be easier for Jokowi to take the reins of ASEAN next year. General Hlaing is likely to choose to let millions die of starvation or military oppression rather than bow to ASEAN’s demand to act like a real army general and not a monster.
The author is editor-in-chief at Jakarta Post.