ASEAN used to be considered an organization that tended to sweep the dirt under the carpet, but that is no longer the case, at least since the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter in December 2008.
The Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (IAMM) on March 2, 2021, that followed Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi’s shuttle diplomacy was a case in point. All ASEAN foreign ministers, including a representative of the Myanmar military authority, attended the virtual meeting held specifically to discuss the developments in Myanmar.
The IAMM called for the safety of the people, restoration of democracy and constitutional government, rules of law and respect of human rights, as enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, which Myanmar, under the military-ruled government, has ratified.
As ASEAN still faces some pressing issues, including COVID-19, the main message of the IAMM constitutes ASEAN’s prompt response and concern about the situation in Myanmar, as well as willingness to help stop the bloodshed that has claimed the lives of innocent people who were expressing their basic rights. The fatalities should end and reconciliation and a peaceful settlement should be immediately realized.
As the bloc is currently negotiating unprecedented challenges, such as the pandemic and the current regional geopolitical dynamics, it is crucial for the regional grouping to remain united and solid, so that it can emerge from the crisis and reach its common goals.
Great challenges lie ahead, but there are also immense opportunities for ASEAN to collectively tap into.
There are some takeaways from last week’s IAMM.
First, I recall the consistency of Indonesia and ASEAN in the past in constructively engaging Myanmar to finally implement its roadmap to democracy. ASEAN was a consistent defender of Myanmar from international pressures, and concurrently helped it follow its roadmap to democracy and exert internal pressures to free political prisoners, including their leader, as part of the democratization process.
Now that the roadmap is no longer there, the adherence to the ASEAN Charter is the key message, which all member states, including Myanmar, have ratified and should be bound to.
Second, the issue of noninterference is not relevant in this current context. It was also not relevant in the past either. What ASEAN is doing now, again, is helping its own family member, and therefore we should not shy away but have the liberty to talk frankly among the family and within the framework of the ASEAN Charter. The noninterference has been recalibrated, and it only fits the context the grouping is facing.
Third, as the international pressures mount on Myanmar over the innocent people who have fallen victim to violence in the last few days, it is very clear that ASEAN collectively should be strong in calling for an immediate end of the violent measures and ensure that reconciliation starts immediately. The military should grant ASEAN aid access and let the grouping assist, as it has consistently and constructively done to bring peace and prosperity to the people in the country.
Fourth, when ASEAN finally agreed in 2011 to allow Myanmar to chair ASEAN in 2014, all ASEAN members, against all odds, believed that democratization was at a point of no return. Under Indonesia’s chairmanship in 2011, ASEAN agreed to let Myanmar take the lead due to strong belief that the country had been performing as a responsible member of the ASEAN family.
In this context, it is important for Myanmar’s military to understand that such belief remains intact, and they should not lose the momentum to make it right. Much is at stake if ASEAN’s calls fall on deaf ears.
The writer is former Indonesian ambassador to Singapore and Indonesia’s first permanent representative to ASEAN. The views expressed are personal.