The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has received a strong mandate to host an ASEAN special summit to discuss how the regional grouping should deal with the crisis unfolding in one of its member states, Myanmar, after the military seized power from the democratically elected government on Feb. 1.
This is a diplomatic scoop for Jokowi, who has previously shown little appetite for foreign affairs but now is taking firm action to assist the Myanmar people.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, this year’s chairman of ASEAN, and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin issued a joint statement on Monday in support of President Jokowi’s initiative to host the emergency summit. The two also asked their ministers and senior officials to undertake “necessary preparations for the meeting that will be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.”
The much-awaited backing came three days after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines of Beijing’s support for the ASEAN initiative.
Myanmar’s military leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, on the other hand, claims to have won the support of China and Russia. But Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has said that Russia has thrown its weight behind ASEAN’s initiative.
Clearly the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, is facing mounting pressure from ASEAN. It can no longer seek solace from neighboring Thailand, whose current government is also the product of a military coup.
Aung Hlaing has threatened to seclude Myanmar, but this is unlikely to succeed as opponents of the coup have continued with relentless street demonstrations.
The choice of the ASEAN Secretariat as the venue to host the ASEAN leaders’ meeting is unprecedented and is intended to show to the world that the Myanmar conundrum is an ASEAN matter. Choosing a neutral site should avoid the embarrassing possibility of certain ASEAN leaders declining to attend the meeting.
What is happening in Myanmar is not regarded simply as a domestic problem for that country, but the shared concern of ASEAN as a group. The longer the crisis goes on in Myanmar, the more vulnerable regional peace and stability becomes.
Gen. Aung Hlaing has appointed himself the supreme leader of Myanmar and ordered a crackdown on the coup protestors, leaving at least 557 people dead. The United Nations had previously listed the general among those responsible for the systematic massacre and the expulsion of Muslim Rohingyas from Rakhine state.
President Jokowi hopes to prove his leadership of ASEAN and work with his counterparts to stop the killings and later to restore democracy in Myanmar.
Indonesia is the de facto leader of ASEAN but has never forced its will against the rest of the bloc’s membership. But this time around Indonesia is seeking to push for quick collective measures by ASEAN for the sake of the people of Myanmar and stability in the region as a whole.
Indonesia played a pivotal role in helping Cambodia end its prolonged civil war a few decades ago and it is hoped it can repeat the magic in Myanmar.
In the meantime, let us hope ASEAN will set a date for the much-anticipated summit soon.