Thailand’s Myanmar initiative – The Jakarta Post

ASEAN's rigid position against the junta should be quickly readjusted as Myanmar is now on the brink of becoming a failed state.


April 26, 2024

JAKARTA – The outgoing government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo needs to positively respond to the initiative of Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Myanmar, amid a situation where the military junta has lost control of several key frontier areas to rebel groups. ASEAN’s rigid position against the junta should be quickly readjusted as Myanmar is now on the brink of becoming a failed state.

Following the statement of PM Srettha that now is a good time to open talks with Myanmar, as the military regime that seized power in a 2021 coup is weakening, his government has proposed to Laos, this year’s ASEAN chair, to host a limited emergency meeting. His government believes the regional grouping should take a more realistic approach to helping the impoverished nation gradually stop this humanitarian crisis.

There will likely be significant breakthroughs because of ASEAN’s new approach. Indonesia failed to reach any meaningful progress in pressing Myanmar’s junta to stop its genocidal acts during its 2023 chairmanship. Laos has chosen “silent diplomacy” and is more willing to engage with the military, although it abides by ASEAN’s decision to expel the junta from any official ASEAN meetings.

According to Reuters, Myanmar is in the throes of an emergency on multiple fronts, with allied anti-junta groups, backed by a pro-democracy parallel government, seizing control of several military posts and towns, including parts of a key town on the border with Thailand.

“The current regime is starting to lose some strength,” Srettha said in an interview with Reuters earlier this month. “Maybe it’s time to reach out and make a deal,” he said.

The current Thai government’s position, which came to power in August last year, is different from that of previous prime minister Gen. (ret) Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who openly supported Myanmar’s junta leader Gen. Aung Min Hlaing, who toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Now, Thailand has returned to supporting the ASEAN position.

The planned meeting will be attended by Laos, Malaysia, as the next year’s chairman of ASEAN, Indonesia as the previous chair and Thailand, which is most affected by the raging civil war between the junta and a loose alliance of established ethnic-minority armies and supporters of Suu Kyi’s government.

It still needs to be made clear whether the meeting will invite foreign ministers or government leaders. However, it should be organized soon, and ASEAN should be more flexible in engaging outside powers, especially in mobilizing humanitarian assistance to all parties in Myanmar. Opposition groups reject the aid plan as they worry the junta will use the assistance for its interests.

But all players should be realistic. The civil war in Myanmar has barely won the attention of the world, which is now more preoccupied with the crisis in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine. The junta is losing control of the regions bordering Thailand and China. We should also remember that the war has made Myanmar the world’s largest opium producer.

Let’s forget the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), which was signed by Aung Min Hlaing when he attended ASEAN’s emergency summit in Jakarta in April 2021, three months after his coup. The general has refused to implement his commitments while ASEAN cannot force him to comply.

The consensus includes an immediate end to violence in the country, dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special envoy, humanitarian assistance from ASEAN and a special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties. After three years, the consensus has remained a document without action.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi should waste no time in arranging a meeting with her Thai counterpart Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara to realize PM Srettha’s plan. A limited summit or ministerial meeting, as proposed by the Thai leader, should be convened sooner, rather than later.

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