UNSC resolution on Myanmar a vote of confidence in Jokowi

Under Jokowi’s leadership, there is big hope that the regional grouping will be able to find a solution to the Myanmar question that is acceptable not only to the region but also the world.

Kornelius Purba

Kornelius Purba

The Jakarta Post


Change of guard: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (right) accepts a gavel from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as the ASEAN chairmanship is passed to Indonesia at the closing ceremony of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, 2022. (AFP/Nhac Nguyen)

January 4, 2023

JAKARTA – The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has awarded a rare bit of political capital to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as this year’s rotary chair of ASEAN, specifically in dealing with Myanmar junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who always believes veto holders China and Russia will jump to his defense.

The UNSC decided to entrust ASEAN with leading the international effort to end the junta’s brutal repression of the Myanmar people and abide by the five-point consensus Hlaing and ASEAN leaders agreed upon in April 2021. Hlaing faced significant pressure to release democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi unconditionally, but the general mocked the UNSC by extending the jail term for Suu Kyi to 33 years, meaning the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner may spend the rest of her life in prison.

President Jokowi should not take the UNSC’s decision for granted, because just one day after the resolution was issued, Thailand hosted a meeting of five Mekong River countries – Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar – in Bangkok, in a clear show of support for the Myanmar junta. They are all are ASEAN members that supported the five-point consensus.

Holding the Group of 20 presidency in 2022 and hosting its summit last November helped Jokowi get better acquainted with the leaders of the five veto holders and permanent members of the UNSC. The P5 are also members of the G20.

I strongly believe that a good relationship with Jokowi was the reason why Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin abstained from, rather than vetoed, the UNSC resolution. India, a non-permanent member of UNSC and holder of this year’s G20 presidency also abstained. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over the G20 presidency from President Jokowi at the end of the Bali summit.

The three big powers, surprisingly, abstained when the UNSC adopted a resolution demanding that the Myanmar junta immediately end violence and release all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, whose democratically elected government was seized by the military in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021.

The resolution also acknowledges “the central role of [ASEAN] in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and encouraging the international community to support the ASEAN-led mechanism and process in this regard”. 

In the resolution, the UNSC calls “for concrete and immediate actions to effectively and fully implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus — which called for an immediate cessation of violence and constructive dialogue among all parties, among other things”.

Coincidentally or by design, just one day after UNSC Resolution No. 2669 was issued, five predominantly Buddhist nations along the Mekong River gathered in Bangkok to demonstrate their solidarity with Gen. Hlaing on Dec. 23, 2022.

In attendance were Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, the Cambodian and Laotian foreign ministers and Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister, as well as Myanmar junta foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar investment and foreign economic relations minister Kan Zaw and Myanmar international cooperation minister Ko Hlaing.

“The consultation was a non-ASEAN meeting but intended to complement ASEAN’s ongoing collective efforts to find a peaceful political resolution,” according to Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Kanchana Patarachoke.

There were no representatives from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia or Singapore, the junta’s staunchest critics in ASEAN. 

An unnamed diplomatic source told Reuters that Singapore’s foreign minister had objected to the meeting in an official letter because ASEAN had decided to exclude the junta from any ASEAN official meetings.

“Any meeting convened under ASEAN, formal or informal, should not divert from this decision,” the letter said, according to the source.

President Jokowi succeeded in his shuttle diplomacy in convincing the G20 leaders to use the Bali summit as an opportunity to at least reduce global security, food and energy crises. Jokowi may repeat a similar recipe with his ASEAN colleagues. His approach will be crucial in drumming up ASEAN unity at the highest level.

It will be almost impossible to convince Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha to change his nearly unconditional support for his Myanmar friend, Gen. Hlaing, because both came to power through military coups. But Prayuth can, at least, be asked not to torpedo ASEAN’s position. Other Mekong River nations should also be convinced not to stay silent when the Myanmar military kills the nation’s people just to cling to power.

Jokowi reportedly intends to visit Myanmar shortly as part of his peacemaking mission. I suggest that he make sure he gets access to Suu Kyi. The Myanmar junta humiliated Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Hun Sen by denying the sultan’s special envoy and the Cambodian Prime Minister access to Suu Kyi, despite the fact that they chaired ASEAN at the time.

The Jakarta Post reported that poor Rohingya refugees with little education received emergency medical treatment after a boat carrying nearly 200 came ashore in Aceh on Monday, the fourth such landing in the country in recent months.

Each year, thousands of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya, heavily persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, risk their lives on long, expensive sea journeys, often in poor-quality vessels, in an attempt to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

This is a humanitarian crisis, and for sure ASEAN is not able to handle the problem alone, because the refugee problem has lasted for decades. International cooperation is needed to address the crisis.

The Myanmar crisis will remain a predominant issue for ASEAN this year. But we should not forget that this year, Timor Leste will become the 11th member of the regional grouping. With its admission, now ASEAN has embraced all countries in Southeast Asia.

The UNSC has let ASEAN take a leading role in dealing with Myanmar’s military under Indonesia’s chairmanship. Under Jokowi’s leadership, there is big hope that the regional grouping will be able to find a solution to the Myanmar question that is acceptable not only to the region but also the world.


The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

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