February 3, 2022
JAKARTA – After one year, the crisis in Myanmar does not appear close to being settled and its people continue to live in fear — not only from military junta-sponsored acts of violence but also the spread of COVID-19.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada announced on Monday sanctions against three Myanmar senior officials loyal to the junta. More punitive actions from the international community may follow to pile pressure on the Army generals, who seized power from a democratically elected civilian government on Feb. 1, 2021.
Doubts have loomed over the effectiveness of the hard approach to convince the military junta to bow down to pressures. Instead, the junta has intensified its crackdown on any dissent, both anti-coup protesters and minority ethnic groups who have been waging a guerilla war for years.
ASEAN has exhausted diplomatic measures at its disposal, including boycotting the junta leader, Min Aung Hlaing, or representatives from any forum the regional grouping has held, citing the junta’s failure to show any progress of its commitment to a five-point consensus that aims to bring peace and democracy back to Myanmar.
For some, isolating Myanmar only demonstrates the desperation of at least some ASEAN leaders to tame the stubborn defiance of the junta. But it is safe to say that this time around, ASEAN has proven its commitment to its vision of creating one community that ensures its people can enjoy, among others, human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the principle of democracy.
The Myanmar conundrum, if it remains unsolved, will pose an uphill challenge, if not a threat, to the realization of the vision ASEAN adopted in 2015.
The major stumbling block to ASEAN’s efforts to end the suffering of Myanmar’s people is a lack of unity. ASEAN leaders have failed to act in a concerted manner, allowing the Myanmar junta to maneuver as it knows that one or two bloc members stand ready to come to the rescue.
The cracks were visible when not all ASEAN heads of government turned up for an emergency summit at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in April last year, although the event resulted in a five-point consensus the Myanmar junta promised to implement.
The disunity further unfolded when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the current chair of ASEAN, visited the junta leader last month in a move that many interpreted as the former’s recognition of the latter as the legitimate ruler of Myanmar.
The United Nations has so far not acknowledged the junta as a representation of Myanmar to the world body, which instead still recognizes Ambassador Khaw Moe Thun as the UN representative of the deposed civilian Myanmar government.
ASEAN unity will again be put to a test in the ASEAN foreign ministerial retreat in Phnom Penh on Feb. 16-17. The core issue will be how to formulate a concerted effort to make the Myanmar junta follow the five-point consensus as the basis of a problem-solving mechanism.
Failure to do so will plunge Myanmar into an endless humanitarian tragedy, now that the threat of a civil war is lurking.