Perhaps the ASEAN consensus in past weeks towards the Myanmar crisis deserves some appreciation, as it is finally breaking through the organization’s conservative norms. The outcome and real-world effects of the agreement will largely determine ASEAN’s credibility, the commitment of the military junta, and the return of Myanmar to a democratic government.

Elpeni Fitrah – Taiwan Center for Security Studies

ASEAN - A regional profile
Image Source: ASEAN press release

The ASEAN special high-level summit to address the ongoing crisis in post-coup Myanmar last month, located in ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia, actually produced a spontaneous progressive resolution to end the turmoil. However, the agreement is considered far from perfect and still provokes dissatisfaction from some parties. On the positive side, this bloc should be appreciated for its ability to convince Myanmar’s Junta Leader, Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, to attend the negotiating table in person and make this his first foreign trip since the Feb. 1 coup. It could be understandable that Myanmar’s pro-democracy and some international human rights activists are unsatisfied with the inclusion. For them, the new State Administrative Councils (SAC) set up by the Junta is illegitimate and illegal.

However, some experts presume that the rational way to restore the situation is opening communication with the military regimes. Secondly, the initial doubts and skeptical views toward this meeting turned out to be not entirely valid. The way this regional group handles the round-up seems more interventionist and has broken through conservative principles of this organization which is characterized by consensus and non-interference or broadly known as the “ASEAN Way.” It can be seen from how the ASEAN’s leader frankly conveyed their concerns to the coup leader during the dialogue process, as Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, “The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue. Violence must be stopped, democracy, stability, and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” He went on to say that the interests of the Myanmar people must always be the priority.

Five key points agreed by Southeast Asian leaders and Myanmar’s Junta chief after the emergency summit. It can be simplified as, 1) end the violence immediately, 2) conducting constructive dialogue as a source of a peaceful solution, 3) ASEAN will send a special envoy to mediate the Myanmar crisis, 4) ASEAN will provide humanitarian aid, and 5) a special delegation of ASEAN must be allowed to enter Myanmar and meet the conflictual parties. When the Junta leader was approving the ASEAN’s proposal to end its brutal repressiveness immediately, it seemed to be impressing that its administration is not anti-dialogue and very welcome to external intervention, as long as it comes from a trusted partner, or if its position is secure.

Myanmar coup: Protesters defy military warning in mass strike - BBC News
Image Source: BBC

Nevertheless, the audience would still be suspicious that a lenient gesture could have been a mere ornament on the lips, aimed at assuaging the international public’s anger. One thing for sure, the regional’s approach based on dialogue, consultations, and consensus still seems more promising and constructive in solving problems than coercive or frontal measures. Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists are certainly well-received and see a glimmer of hope behind ASEAN’s call for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar by saying this as “encouraging news.” “We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and to restore our democracy and freedom,” said Dr. Sasa, the international co-operation minister of the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s shadow government formed by ousted lawmakers and some ethnic groups opposed to the junta. Nevertheless, several disappointments have also surfaced. Firstly, ASEAN’s consensus failed to include a clause that obliges the aggressor to release all political prisoners into the agreed document. The phrase was known to be deleted before the statement was formalized. This part is actually very essential to be a precursor for steps toward resolution of the crisis.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based rights group, reported that as of Tuesday (27/4), 755 people had been killed throughout the coup, while 4,496 people had been arrested. In addition, the political crisis also leads the country to the brink of an economic downturn. Secondly, the consensus doesn’t formulate a timeline as a clear plan to ensure that this talk will immediately turn into action. This negligence is considered fatal because it gives more time for the crisis in Myanmar to continue on and lends room for the military junta to become more repressive. As a result, a day after the summit, the anti-coup protest still resonates, and the Junta regimes couldn’t refrain from attacking and arresting civilians.

Finally, the Myanmar public is now wondering, after ASEAN special summit on the Myanmar crisis, what’s next? It’s not just about ASEAN’s commitment to safeguarding the implementation of its consensus but also about how it would wisely place itself in the middle of the two contested political power in Myanmar, the Junta and NUG, which mutually strive for international recognition. Furthermore, even though challenging, this regional leader’s convention should be treated as a valuable momentum to create a humanitarian pause and provide an opportunity for international volunteers to start humanitarian work in Myanmar, such as Covid-19 assistance, food aid, and health assistance for victims of violence. This is possibly the best way to end the possibility of civil war and a prolonged escalating conflict in Myanmar, as well as preventing wider regional conflicts.

*This is an updating story and we will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.*