September 26, 2022
JAKARTA – ASEAN foreign ministers intend to meet in Jakarta next month ahead of another regional summit without Myanmar, after agreeing that there was insufficient progress by the junta to honor a consensus to achieve national reconciliation.
More than a year since the nine ASEAN leaders and junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing agreed to terms set out in the Five Point Consensus (5PC), the regime has defied its duties while overseeing a nationwide crackdown aimed at suppressing the millions of people opposed to military rule.
ASEAN is now mulling additional measures to impose on Myanmar, with Indonesia offering to host a meeting to hash out the details, its top diplomat has revealed.
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, the United States, last week, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi took bilateral and multilateral meetings with her regional counterparts to discuss preparations for the next ASEAN summit in Cambodia.
At the informal ASEAN ministerial meeting, Retno pushed for the region’s leaders to specifically broach the topic of the 5PC implementation at the November summit, after it was made clear to everyone that the regime has no intention to honor the consensus. The other foreign ministers agreed to the suggestion.
“We have no ill intention. We only want to nudge [the junta and the opposition] to sit down, reconcile and talk about their future. This isn’t a form of interference, nor is it ASEAN prying into the domestic affairs of its member states. We’re only helping to sit them down to talk,” Retno told the press in New York on Thursday.
At a ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh in August, the regional bloc gave Myanmar’s military leadership until November to show some good faith before ASEAN’s leaders decide on additional measures.
So far, the group has barred political representatives of Myanmar from joining regional meetings and engaged with various opposition circles including the shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG).
However, the group is likely to remain cautious and avoid any steps that are counterproductive to ongoing efforts. “What’s important is that we have no intention to expel Myanmar from ASEAN, but that we must heed the principles of the ASEAN Charter,” Retno said.
On the agenda are efforts to more closely involve other countries that share borders with Myanmar – China, India and Bangladesh – to ensure they understand and support what ASEAN is doing.
In spite of its best intentions, the international crisis response from ASEAN and other parties so far have “deeply disappointed” the people of Myanmar, UN special rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
“The Myanmar military is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a daily basis, including sexual violence, torture, deliberate targeting of civilians and murder,” Andrews explained.
He said it was “time for a re-think of what the entire world is doing and, most importantly, what it is not doing to address this deepening crisis”.
In his speech addressing the UNGA on Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also expressed his disappointment for the lack of meaningful progress in the implementation of the 5PC.
“In its current form, the ASEAN Five Point Consensus cannot continue any longer. Therefore, this consensus needs to be given a new lease of life and refined based on a clearer framework, timeframe and end goal,” he said.
Earlier this week, Malaysia also expressed hope that the UN Security Council will take action on Myanmar. The council is currently considering a draft resolution that calls for the cessation of violence and includes the threat of sanctions.
However, previous attempts at the council have been vetoed by China and Russia, who are likely to protect Myanmar from international scrutiny.
Hun Sen, leader of current ASEAN chair Cambodia, acknowledged the complexity of the situation in his own address to the UNGA on Friday.
“Indeed the situation in Myanmar is worrisome, with its direct implications on the security and the stability of the whole region. But we must recognize that the crisis is complex, with deep-rooted causes. As the ASEAN chair, Cambodia is fully committed to helping Myanmar resolve the crisis,” the Cambodian Prime Minister said.
Question of centrality
In addition to the internal challenges that ASEAN must face, Retno said the bloc must also deal with the external challenge of growing geopolitical competition in the Indo-Pacific that focuses on containment.
To address this situation that Cambodia’s Hun Sen describes as the “rise of mini security alliances” and the “mounting threats to multilateralism,” ASEAN has been championing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), which places regional cooperation back into the context of development.
Retno revealed that a new concept paper is being drafted as a means of implementing the AOIP. Once ready, it would be shared among ASEAN member states but also partner countries from the region.
“Since last year, we have been promoting the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Now we are [preparing] how to translate and implement the concept,” the minister said on Thursday.
In an effort to facilitate the AOIP’s implementation, Retno said Indonesia would host the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Forum next year.
“As an ASEAN country, our approach has always been about development, because that is what we need right now,” she said.