The 10 Members of ASEAN, Myanmar being one of them, acknowledged from the very beginning in the Chairman’ Statement of the 37th ASEAN Summit, held in Vietnam on 12 November 2020, that the year under review was focused to undertake “commendable efforts in achieving a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN”. This was the theme of ASEAN for 2020. Furthermore, the Heads of State/Government emphasized that “were encouraged by the progress made in the realization of ASEAN” priorities in 2020, including through the implementation of the “Leaders Vision Statement on a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN: Rising above Challenges and Sustaining Growth”.
Just almost two months later the ASEAN is confronted with a real challenge requiring the “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN”to be in action– the military coup in Myanmar. Immediately, the statements of the individual member states have been issued. Naturally, the timing, wording, and content were not coordinated, so there were some differences of importance to be taken into consideration. Outstandingly, all these statements are signaling a serious danger for the ASEAN COMMUNITY, which is progressing quite well in its current stage – “ASEAN 2025: FORGING AHEAD TOGETHER”. Among the significant targets of it constitutes reducing the gap between the initial five founders of ASEAN and 4 countries that joined the Association at a later date (second batch) – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The 10th member is Brunei. The way I see it, Vietnam, successfully passed this requirement and the other three are making reasonable progress. From this point of view, Myanmar vitally needs ASEAN.
The joint voice was heard in a very short time in the “ASEAN Chairman’s Statement on the developments in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar”. It is to be noted that the very title is containing a fine and careful nuance of abstaining from using “military coup”. In other parts of the world, there was no hesitation to call it a military coup and identify the solution by imposing sanctions. The ASEAN way of managing conflict-resolution is specific to observe the principle of not interfering into internal affairs and to guaranty the path of dialogue.
It is, however, necessary to emphasize that the Statement sent a serious political and partnership signal to the military in Myanmar that their move is in contradiction with “the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
In a separate point, the Statement drew the attention of the Myanmar military that “the political stability in ASEAN Member States is essential to achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community”.
In real terms, ASEAN Chairman is making Myanmar understand the actual meaning of the “DEVELOPMENTS” he meant in the title of his Statement. Concurrently, the description as per above of the “real developments” is bringing the position of ASEAN at par with the essence of the international positions on the military coup in Myanmar and, by doing so, the efforts of the 9 ASEAN Member States will be commendable and supported by the Partners of ASEAN and ASIA EUROPE MEETING (ASEM) and, not only.
During the latest days the “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN” opened the stage of finding a solution to the situation in Myanmar. The President of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, during the latter’s official visit to Jakarta said they were seeking a special meeting of Southeast nations to discuss the events in Myanmar and that their Foreign Ministers were asked to talk to Brunei, the current Chair of ASEAN, to try to set up the special Myanmar meeting.
The task will not be easy and the outcome is too early to be predicted. With an aim of not losing the grabbed position, the interested military circles might resist by invoking their internal affairs stand and, the sacred ASEAN principle of not interfering into internal affairs. In fact, in my view, what is now happening in Myanmar is also an internal matter of ASEAN, which justifies the Association’s quest for a mutually-acceptable solution.
Still, I take into consideration the successful experience of Indonesia, as well as of Malaysia, in managing conflict resolutions in the region, including in very Myanmar not long ago. As far as I know, the previous peaceful initiatives were not from the outset publicly and officially announced, as it is the case of this highest level, commendable and, I would dear say rear, attempt to bring back democracy in Myanmar. It could be a mistake by saying that the usual sounding diplomatic way did not precede the highest-level official announcement!
Certainly, a peaceful and democratic Myanmar represents a guaranty for the ASEAN COMMUNITY, for Asia in general, as it is as well the case for Myanmar itself and its possible active or latent supporters. A dialogue means always a compromise!
This paper represents an opinion.
The author is:
MGIMO University certified Specialist on Southeast Asia, speaking Bahasa Indonesia, Russian and English.
Career diplomat with over 40 years of activity.
Former Ambassador to Indonesia and Pakistan, Head of Mission, with Cabinet Letter, to Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Finland and Estonia.
Former Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania for Asia and Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America Department.
Founder as President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Romania - Malaysia.
Founder and President of the Romanian Institute for Europe-Asia Studies – IRSEA.