May 10, 2022
JAKARTA – The disappointment expressed by the National Unity Government (NUG), the representative of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in exile, toward the result of ASEAN’s meeting on humanitarian assistance to Myanmar will not mean anything and even sends the wrong perception that the NUG can only pile up its demands to ASEAN. The opposition badly needs to deploy more sympathetic and constructive diplomatic approaches to ASEAN neighbors.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Sokhonn Prak hosted the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian to Myanmar on Friday to discuss three main issues, namely the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Delivery Arrangement Framework, addressing the operational challenges of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the framework for COVID-19 vaccine administration in Myanmar.
“The NUG has repeatedly reached out to the ASEAN chair and the ASEAN special envoy to convey our openness to engage and discuss ways forward; however, our previous communication has not been reciprocated until now,” the government in exile said in a statement on Sunday.
Without realizing it, the NUG may undermine the idea of some ASEAN members, notably Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, to gradually engage with it, especially in the area of humanitarian relief. As reported by Bernama news agency, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah established an informal relationship with the NUG early this month. He even held an informal meeting with the Suu Kyi’s supporters group a few months ago.
Myanmar’s junta condemned Malaysia’s proposal because the former categorizes the NUG as a terrorist group. Junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has also made it very clear that he would not honor the five-point consensus with ASEAN leaders in Jakarta last year, including stopping the use of violence and the use of peaceful means to reach agreements with all conflicting parties in Myanmar.
The NUG should know that ASEAN could not act as it wishes because Suu Kyi’s side is only one of the key actors that could help Myanmar’s people regain freedom and determine their own future. ASEAN has breached the long-standing non-interference principle in order to defend Myanmar’s people, even though it remains far from ideal at least in the eyes of NUG.
The opposition should also remember that its leader Suu Kyi has little trust in some ASEAN members, especially Indonesia and Malaysia, because of their bond with the minority Muslim Rohingya. She had refused visit the two countries as part of her introduction until she was toppled by the military on Feb. 1 last year.
ASEAN has unprecedentedly punished Gen. Hlaing by boycotting him in all ASEAN forums, but the NUG must remember it was Suu Kyi who voluntarily defended the Myanmar military from genocide allegations at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December 2019.
ASEAN, however, does not have a unified voice regarding Myanmar’s junta. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is a strong supporter of the junta because he, too, came to power by toppling a civilian government in 2014. Rotating ASEAN chairs Brunei and Cambodia have tried to engage the junta in finding an amicable solution to the Myanmar crisis but to no avail.
ASEAN has done much to put pressure on the Myanmar junta. It’s time for the NUG to move beyond condemnation, regret and criticisms. Such rhetoric could backfire on the NUG, sooner or later.