Criticism clouds Indonesia’s hunt for Myanmar envoy

Observers have pointed out that the one-year tenure of the position constrains the likelihood of meaningful progress.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on the sidelines of the 2022 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 7, 2022. (AFP/Valery Sharifulin)

November 28, 2022

JAKARTA – With no immediate end in sight to the Myanmar crisis that has tested ASEAN unity, the onus is on incoming chair Indonesia to pick a special envoy that can rise to the challenge of mediating a solution within their limited tenure of one year – and perhaps even beyond.

Pressure is mounting for Indonesia to lead the regional bloc toward resolving the political, humanitarian and economic crises stemming from the junta-led coup of Feb. 1, 2021, when the repressive military regime usurped power from Myanmar’s democratically elected civilian government.

The two successive ASEAN chairs following the coup yielded poor results, despite an ultimatum from the bloc’s nine other member states to restore peace and attain national reconciliation through the Five-Point Consensus, which was negotiated with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Jakarta in April last year.

Among the agreed points of the consensus is for ASEAN’s sitting chair to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar for overseeing the peace process.Observers have been critical that, as the position was restricted to the one-year tenure of the group’s rotating chairmanship, it would only impede any meaningful progress.

Bruneian foreign minister Erywan Yusof was appointed the first ASEAN Myanmar special envoy to visit the country post-coup. He was succeeded this year by Cambodian foreign minister Prak Sokhonn, who made two visits and reported immense difficulties in getting all parties involved to speak with each other at any level.

Prak Sokhonn is to visit Myanmar a final time before his tenure as Myanmar special envoy ends this year, to assist in its “return to normalcy and the democratic path”.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has entered into discussions about selecting the special envoy for 2023, even taking into account criticisms from NGOs running low on patience with ASEAN’s performance, one source close to the matter told The Jakarta Post.

The source said the strategies used by past envoys would be analyzed thoroughly to determine any progress in implementing the five-point framework, before recommending any candidates to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

On Nov. 19, a week after Cambodia wrapped up the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, Sokhonn reflected on his work as Myanmar special envoy over the past year and submitted a list of policy suggestions for ASEAN.

Among these was the suggestion that the bloc hold all parties, including “ethnic armed organizations”, accountable for any violence. Additionally, ASEAN should aim to facilitate fairer compromise, he said, suggesting that “excessive” demands had been laid at the junta’s feet.

The statement marked the first time Cambodia had openly defended the junta leadership since handing over the ASEAN chairmanship to Indonesia.

Meanwhile, official source said the Myanmar military would continue to face heavy scrutiny under Indonesia’s chairmanship, suggesting that the threat of armed violence posed by ethnic minority rebels were far outweighed by the junta’s firepower.

‘Tall order’

Amid the growing pressure from its neighbors, the junta’s leaders in capital Naypyidaw have become emboldened by recent support from Russia, another pariah state that has polarized international opinion for its invasion of Ukraine this February.

The Myanmar junta and Moscow signed in mid-November a nuclear cooperation deal to establish a nuclear technology hub in Yangon. They also agreed to open direct flights to Yangon to strengthen connectivity.

Meanwhile, analysts remained skeptical about Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship making a difference, as long as it insisted on appointing a new Myanmar special envoy each year.

“It takes time to become well-informed about the situation on the ground, to earn the trust of all conflicting parties, to have the patience to visit and speak to different groups,” said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a senior international relations researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN). “A one year term is a nonstarter.”

Fitriani, an international relations expert from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, said the envoy should ideally be a representative for the whole of ASEAN rather than its rotating chair.

And even if Indonesia’s eventual appointee defied all odds and facilitated effective dialogue between the conflicting sides, she said, there was still no guarantee that the 2024 special envoy would be able to build on their predecessor’s achievements.

Continuing, she said Indonesia’s choice for Myanmar special envoy should possess a well of patience and be able to work with all sides while maintaining impartiality.

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