May 2, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will host the ASEAN summit on May 9-11 in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara. The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar will yet again test the credibility of the regional bloc.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing will be barred from attending the summit, as ASEAN has yet to lift the punitive measure imposed on the Myanmar military junta for its disrespect for the five-point consensus (5PC). Still, despite the isolation, the junta is unlikely to relent or offer a compromise because it knows ASEAN wants it to relinquish the power it robbed from the Myanmar people on Feb. 1, 2021.
With all respect to the intensive diplomatic efforts by the Indonesian-led ASEAN efforts to find meaningful solutions to the Myanmar crisis, or at least to reduce the rampant violence and human rights abuses committed by the junta, Min Aung Hlaing has made it very clear he will turn a deaf ear to ASEAN’s condemnations of his genocidal acts.
So why should Indonesia continue expecting the general to finally become part of the solution?
It is equally impossible to pin hopes solely on the National Unity Government (NUG), the representative government of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in exile. The NUG recently asked ASEAN to refrain from dealing with the junta, which is too much. Who do they think they are that they dare to dictate the regional grouping?
On April 17, the Diplomat quoted Aung Myo Min, the NUG’s human rights minister, as saying that ASEAN “could face legal ramifications given war crimes are under investigation by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court”.
“ASEAN cannot work with them; they do not have to work with them. They have been warned that those terrorists will go before the international courts,” he said, referring to the military junta.
As a party in need, the NUG has no right to command ASEAN, even though it is true that ASEAN should involve them in the group’s efforts to bring peace and democracy back to Myanmar.
The NUG is only one of the stakeholders that ASEAN needs to talk to. Just for a record, NUG members from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) are also held responsible for the atrocities against the minority Muslim Rohingyas, which the United Nations classified as a crime against humanity. The NUG should not forget either that its leader, Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, testified at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Dec. 10, 2019, when the world commemorated International Human Rights Day, in defense of the Myanmar military.
The same military toppled her government two years later.
Indonesia does not owe Suu Kyi. As the de-facto leader of Myanmar, she refused to visit Jakarta, breaking the ASEAN tradition. Suu Kyi apparently believed ASEAN did nothing to help her and that Indonesia supported the rebellious, predominantly Muslim Rakhine state, where the Rohingyas live.
The Myanmar military does not care about ASEAN’s pressures or threats as they can find solace from China and, to some extent, Russia.
In addition, ASEAN is not really solid in dealing with the junta. It is already an open secret that Thailand under former general Prayut Chan-o-cha supports the Myanmar junta.
So, why should Indonesia waste time and energy to initiate diplomatic measures to end the Myanmar conundrum?
President Jokowi called for an emergency summit in Jakarta on April 24, 2021, which resulted in the Myanmar junta’s agreement to the 5PC. The consensus called for an immediate end to the military violence, dialogue among all parties, appointment of ASEAN’s special envoy, access for humanitarian assistance by ASEAN to Myanmar and visits of the special envoy to meet all parties there.
But as soon as the general arrived home, he “tore to shreds” the 5PC.
Hlaing has proven he does not care about whatever the world says about him, including economic sanctions. Myanmar has a long history of seclusion from the outside world, and got used to living in poverty for decades – and survived. The military junta will never listen to its neighbors’ concerns and will continue to kill the people as they wish in order to cling to power.
As widely expected, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has broken his promise to hold general elections early this year. To ensure the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) stood no chance of a comeback as it did when it won the last two elections, the general disbanded all political parties.
The United Nations and the UN Security Council have issued several condemnations against the junta for the continuing atrocities in the last two years. According to the BBC, thousands have been killed in the civil war, with an additional 1.4 million displaced. The UN said nearly a third of the country’s population also needed humanitarian aid.
In another effort to restore peace in Myanmar, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, in his capacity as the deputy chair of The Elders, visited the country for talks with Hlaing last week. International media organizations quoted Ban as urging the military to make progress on ASEAN’s peace road map. But Hlaing rejected Ban’s request to meet with Suu Kyi.
President Jokowi, who chairs ASEAN this year, has said that ASEAN should not be “taken hostage” by the Myanmar military junta. It is just a waste of time for Indonesia and ASEAN to stay focused on how to persuade the military junta to comply with the five-point consensus.
ASEAN should just expel the junta-controlled Myanmar from ASEAN and intensify talks with the opposition groups, including with NUG, instead.
ASEAN should move forward with or without Myanmar.
The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.