Indonesia’s Myanmar leadership key as ASEAN will flags: Analysts

Analysts have suggested the establishment of a long-term road map that contains provisions to maintain progress as the bloc’s chair rotates.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


(From left) Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son shakes hands with Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee Wang Yi, beside the Philippines' Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Malaysia's Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir in Jakarta on July 13, 2023.(AFP/Tatan Syuflana)

August 4, 2023

JAKARTA – Pressure is mounting on Indonesia to lead the charge to address the Myanmar coup crisis amid growing sentiment that to succeed, the effort must go beyond ASEAN’s slow processes.

Analysts have suggested the establishment of a long-term road map that contains provisions to maintain progress as the bloc’s chair rotates.

More than two years after a coup d’etat plunged Myanmar’s political and social landscape into crisis, ASEAN faces accusations of moving too slowly against a defiant junta that has unleashed a heavy-handed crackdown on pro-democracy groups that it calls terrorists.

The military regime extended the nationwide state of emergency for a fourth time on Tuesday, a designation it has used as a pretext to suspend democratic processes to “restore perpetual peace across the nation”. The emergency status delays the election the junta has promised by at least another six months.

The announcement was made after junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing met with the Myanmar National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) and promised more “military and security operations for minimizing terror acts”.

The junta also announced a partial pardon for ousted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, rescinding five charges that shortened her prison sentence to 27 years. The move is widely considered a bid to ease international pressure against the military’s rule.

On the same day, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry expressed concern that the developments had “only continued to decelerate any peace efforts”.

“It will only put Myanmar in an even more difficult position,” said ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah, whose office claims to have intensively yet discreetly engaged with various Myanmar stakeholders.

Roaming rogue

ASEAN fatigue and disunity have contributed to the stagnation of peace efforts, observers have said.

Since the coup, ASEAN has sought to place itself at the center of the efforts to restore peace, frequently referring to its Five-Point Consensus (5PC) as the sole compass for the group’s diplomatic strategies.

The 5PC, signed by leaders just months after the coup, calls for the immediate cessation of violence, inclusive dialogue among parties, the appointment and deployment of a special envoy on Myanmar and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

But with consensus-based ASEAN producing few results, some member states such as Thailand have taken matters into their own hands.

Bangkok set up an informal meeting with the junta in June and later claimed to be the first foreign power to meet with Suu Kyi since her capture.

This move has been seen as undermining ASEAN’s efforts, with Indonesian officials hinting at their disappointment during the talks in Pattaya. Indonesia, as well as ASEAN member states Malaysia and Singapore, declined to send a representative to the meeting.

Yet in late July, after a meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said ASEAN members should be given “some flexibility, room and space” to engage with the junta, signaling a change of attitude, and disunity, in the group.

“This is significant. We already know that Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have always been the progressive, strict voices of ASEAN. That Malaysia is encouraging informal talks outside of the group should raise alarms in Jakarta,” said Lina Alexandra, head of the international relations department at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on Thursday.

A more permissive attitude toward the junta, Lina told The Jakarta Post, could be an indication of “Myanmar fatigue”, a sense of hopelessness stemming from declining trust in ASEAN’s ability to resolve the crisis.

The danger of acting outside of the group, she added, lay in the fact that there was still no clear regional road map for addressing the Myanmar crisis, a fact that could cause countries to send mixed messages to the junta.

“We need to be clear about what we want to do first. Coordination is the most difficult thing here. Without a clear basis, things can get out of control fast,” she warned.

The fix

Ngurah Swajaya, the Indonesian coordinator for the Office of the Special Envoy on Myanmar, said the crisis was not the result of a lack of engagement.

“If we’re talking about engagement, then we have had over 120 engagements [with Myanmar]. What the ASEAN members have agreed to is continued support for Indonesia’s extensive and intensified engagement,” he told the Post on Thursday.

But Dewi Fortuna Anwar of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said on Thursday that ASEAN members may not be to blame for sidestepping the bloc.

“Informal talks can be helpful if the message is unified. If Indonesia does not want to create confusion, then create a road map,” she said.

“That’s the thing about ASEAN; when its modalities have proven ineffective, its members tend to go their own ways.

“And if that upsets Indonesia, then it should really try to make ASEAN more effective,” she said.

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