April 1, 2022
JAKARTA – The defiance of Myanmar junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing against renewed calls for him to follow the five-point consensus to solve the country’s crisis is undeniable evidence of his lack of respect for ASEAN. It is time for the leaders of the regional association to hold him accountable for his reckless acts. Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN should be suspended until the military gives back the power it robbed from the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1 of last year.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has reportedly relinquished the mandate given to him by ASEAN to ensure that the Myanmar general complied with the consensus he agreed to at the ASEAN emergency summit in Jakarta in April of last year. Hun Sen was initially optimistic that he would be able to engage with the junta, knowing well how ASEAN had helped end the civil war in Cambodia in the 1980s.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in a message to Hun Sen in January, said Hlaing had no choice but to carry out his promise. Jokowi did not want Hun Sen to repeat the mistakes of Brunei in failing to inform other ASEAN member states before and after sending an envoy to talk with the Myanmar junta.
As this year’s ASEAN chair, Hun Sen was initially confident that his engagement with the junta would be more fruitful than ASEAN’s rigid position. After Hun Sen, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn visited Myanmar as well. The two missions, however, failed.
Hun Sen later said it would be better if Indonesia, the 2023 chair of ASEAN, took over the job. President Jokowi is slated to assume the ASEAN chairmanship in November after Indonesia completes its presidency of the Group of 20.
“I’m in a situation where I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, so just let it be,” Radio Free Asia quoted Hun Sen as saying while speaking in front of guests, including Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Mikami Masahiro, last month.
To put pressure on the Myanmar junta, ASEAN leaders should have the courage to suspend the country’s membership until it fulfils its promises. It is no longer enough to bar the junta from attending official ASEAN meetings. The leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and, later, the Philippines succeeded in boycotting the junta last year, which was unprecedented, and further efforts are needed.
It is also possible that ASEAN will allow the National Unity Government (NUG), which represents Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected Myanmar government in exile, to attend ASEAN meetings. But knowing the mistrust of Suu Kyi in Indonesia and Malaysia, it will not be easy for the two countries to accommodate the NUG.
Myanmar leader Suu Kyi declined to make introductory visits to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, flouting a long-standing norm for ASEAN, likely because of tensions over the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority group in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
ASEAN also needs to work together with the outside world, especially the West and other advanced countries such as Japan, to enforce economic sanctions against Myanmar’s generals and suspend military cooperation with the Myanmar army.
Hlaing and other Myanmar generals may think they can survive without ASEAN – or even the world. They are wrong.