Malaysia PM Anwar urges Asean rethink of Myanmar

The Asean way of “deferential noninterference” has so far hindered the punitive action that Kuala Lumpur has been pushing since 2016.

Abby Boiser

Abby Boiser

Philippine Daily Inquirer


Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim with Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna leads the wreath laying ceremony at the Rizal park during his two-day state visit in the country. Anwar arrived in the Philippines on March 1, 2023. INQUIRER/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

March 3, 2023

MANILA – The country’s premier state university bestowed its highest academic rank and honor to visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for his expertise on “Jose Rizal, economics, freedom, governance, Islam and democracy.”

University of the Philippines president Angelo Jimenez conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree (juris doctor, honoris causa) on the Malaysian leader at the university’s Diliman campus, which Anwar frequented in his youth.

“His brief political biography hardly does justice to the intellectual and visionary within the politician. For beneath his sharp sense of financial management lies a deep well of moral rectitude, a belief in right and wrong,” Jimenez said at the conferment ceremony.

“Anwar also seeks to foster justice, virtue, compassion, ‘malasakit’ (empathy). This is the humanist at the core of the man speaking, the young activist, and sometimes student of literature,” Jimenez added.

The prime minister also delivered a lecture on Rizal that touched on his concerns as prime minister of Malaysia: that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) stays true to the ideals for which it was founded 56 years ago.

Stand for justice
“[W]hen I mentioned in Bangkok recently about the need to temporarily carve out Myanmar, on account of the blatant human rights violations, it was said in the larger context of the imperative to stay true to one of the key ideals of Asean, which is nothing less than to stand for the cause of justice and the rule of law,” he said in his lecture.

“In this regard, it bears repeating these immortal lines from Dr. Rizal, who I must reiterate, remains truly an Asian renaissance man, that ‘Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest,’” he added.

Not a license for indifference
Anwar conceded that the Asean way of “deferential noninterference” remained central to consensus-building, but he argued that the bloc should not remain silent on the violation of Asean ideals by its own members.“In all honesty, I believe that noninterference is not a license for indifference,” he said, pushing Asean punitive action against Myanmar.

Diplomatic ties between Malaysia and Myanmar used to be tight—both being former British colonies—but became strained recently because of Yangon’s ethnic persecution of Rohingya people and measures that diminished Myanmar’s progress to democracy.

The Asean way of “deferential noninterference” has so far hindered the punitive action that Kuala Lumpur has been pushing since 2016.

Anwar noted that there may be vast cultural differences between the Philippines and Malaysia, but, “Our identities remain the same—that is, diverse and multicultural, yet united in the dignity of the nations—carved out for ourselves in our colonial struggles and our adjustments to a globalized world.”

“Let us look beyond our divergences and amplify our commonalities so that we can stand as cooperative partners working toward the betterment of all our people in a just and peaceful world,” added Anwar.

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