Opponents of the junta are furious that ASEAN is welcoming its boss, Gen. Senior. Min Aung Hlaing, at his meeting in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, arguing that since he took power by force, he is not the legitimate leader of Myanmar. Also weighing heavily on him is the lethal violence perpetrated by the security forces he commands, responsible for the killing of hundreds of protesters and largely peaceful bystanders.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and brutal repression of pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental meeting to address a crisis he has created,” said Brad Adams. Asian director of New York based on Human Rights Watch.
“ASEAN members should instead take this opportunity to impose targeted economic sanctions on junta leaders and companies that finance the junta, and pressure the junta to release political detainees, end the abuses and restore the democratically elected government of the junta. country”.
The enemies of the junta have promoted the idea that the opposition’s parallel national unity government, recently established by elected lawmakers who have been barred from entering the army, should represent Myanmar, or at least play a role in the meeting. of Jakarta. He was not invited.
“It is unacceptable that they invite this assassin-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who has just killed more than 730 people in Myanmar, and I think it is very unfortunate that they, again and again, talk to military generals and not the civilian government of Myanmar. , which is the NUG, ”says the parallel government’s minister of international cooperation, Dr. Sasa, who uses only one name.
Evan Laksmana, a researcher at Indonesia’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank with close ties to the government, told The Associated Press that there is a very practical reason for involving Min Aung Hlaing face-to-face.
ASEAN acknowledges “the reality is that one of the parties is doing the violence, which is the army, and therefore that is why the military is called to the meeting. So this in no way gives legitimacy to the military regime, “he said.
Speaking to the general, ASEAN hopes to initiate a longer-term framework process, starting with an end to the violence, which “will hopefully help facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders in Myanmar, not just (with) the regime. military”.
Skeptics believe ASEAN faces more basic problems in trying to resolve the Myanmar crisis. They emphasize the divergent interests of the group’s members, its long-standing conventions of seeking consensus and avoiding mutual interference in each other’s affairs, and the historic stubbornness of Myanmar’s generals.
One faction in the group, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, believes that the instability generated by the coup is threatening the entire region as does the credibility of ASEAN as a group powerful enough to act independently of the influence of a great power.
They also stress that the ASEAN Charter – adopted in 2007, 40 years after the group was founded – includes democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law as guiding principles.
“This is a difficult time for the much vaunted centrality of ASEAN, the idea that ASEAN is a central regional platform for regional dialogue, to promote peace and stability in the region,” said prof. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. He said the concept of ASEAN is now facing “its gravest and most serious challenge” in 53 years of existence.
Member countries with more authoritarian regimes – Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam – see little benefit in lending more than words to these principles and have treated the Myanmar crisis as an internal matter.
The Jakarta meeting is hybrid, with on-site participation encouraged but virtual participation via video is an option due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have both announced they will stay home and send their foreign ministers in their place, but are facing serious COVID-19 outbreaks, obscuring any political message in their decisions.
“It is more difficult to communicate on a personal level between leaders without the leaders being fully present, particularly with regard to the Prime Minister of Thailand, who we believe has the best relations with the current high general of Myanmar,” noted the Indonesia. Laksmana.
He believes ASEAN has a unique opportunity to engage productively with Myanmar’s junta “because there are no other options on the table right now.”
“We have not seen any progress from the UN Security Council, for example. There is no collective effort on the part of other countries. This is. This is the first potential step forward for the current crisis, “he told The Associated Press.
Specialized agencies and UN experts have been active in criticizing the coup and the crackdown on the junta. UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener will not take part in the ASEAN deliberations, but intends to take part in side consultations. The junta has rejected his repeated requests to visit Myanmar.
The Security Council could effectively coordinate actions like the arms embargo to put pressure on the junta, but Russia and China, the junta’s main arms suppliers, would veto such moves.
Western nations have already enacted targeted sanctions against junta members and businesses that provide them with financial support, but Myanmar’s past military governments have successfully resisted such pressure and are expected to do so again, especially with support of Beijing.
ASEAN prefers quiet diplomacy to intimidation, seeking incremental gains. Getting the two sides of Myanmar to talk to each other could also take some time, Laksmana acknowledges.
“I think the gravity of the situation on the ground is such now that there is no room and no willingness for dialogue until we end the violence,” he said.
“So I think the first steps would be to what extent ASEAN can facilitate compliance with a humanitarian pause first and then the delivery of humanitarian aid,” he said. Only then could a forum be possible in which all stakeholders could speak.
A Southeast Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said another opening move is under consideration. This would involve the current ASEAN President, Prime Minister of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, traveling to Myanmar for meetings with the military leadership and Suu Kyi camp to encourage dialogue. He would go there with ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi – also from Brunei – if the junta gave him the nod.
ASEAN-style diplomacy with Myanmar has paid off in the past. The reigning military regime in 2008 was unable to mount sufficient rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of the devastating cyclone Nargis, but refused to open the country to an international aid effort. ASEAN took the lead by offering to open a channel for foreign assistance, and much-needed aid began to flow.
Associated Press reporters Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Jerry Harmer in Bangkok contributed to this report.