It has been over a year and a half since the coup d’etat in Myanmar by the Tatmadaw, also known as the military Junta, on the 1st of February 2021. Since then, over 2000 Burmese people have been killed with over 14000 imprisoned by the authoritarian regime. In July 2022, the Junta executed four political prisoners including a former lawmaker and youth leader from the previous civilian government called the National League of Democracy (NLD).
In all, not much progress has been seen in alleviating the political instability and insecurity in the Myanmar, especially the lack of follow-through on the Tatmadaw’s promises to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to follow its ‘Five-Point Consensus’.
The Five-Point Consensus was an agreement made at a high-level ASEAN summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 2021, which was attended by the Myanmar Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on his first foreign visit. Among its contents, the Junta general agreed to the following five steps:
An immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties concerned; the appointment of a special envoy; provision of humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and a visit by the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar to meet with all parties.
In reality, we see that the death toll in Myanmar has more than doubled since the initial takeover as well as bombings and burnings of civilian residences, including ethnic minorities. Furthermore, there has been no dialogue or talks of peace between the Tatmadaw and other opposing parties, specifically the Nation Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG) and an armed resistance called the People’s Defense Force (PDF). In fact, Min Aung Hlaing has labelled these opposing parties as terrorist groups for pretense to justify continued fighting. This has complicated the Junta’s strategic offers to talk with only smaller opposition, who instead demand the NUG and PDF be allowed to dialogue as well.
On foreign affairs, the Junta have so far refused to cooperate with ASEAN in allowing its special envoys to visit other parties, including the currently arrested State Counsellor of the NLD Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s President U Win Myint. No one from ASEAN or any other countries, including Junta allies like China, have seen Aung San Suu Kyi or the President since the 2021 coup.
The lack of held promises from Myanmar’s military Junta should be a sign for ASEAN and its member countries to be stricter on enforcing one of its objectives as an organization: promoting regional peace and stability based on the rule of law and the principle of UN Charter. This is especially the case for Indonesia, who will be become ASEAN’s next chairman in 2023.
Indonesia has had a long history of non-bloc and non-intrusive foreign policy as well as neutrality in international conflict. However, this is not to mean that it is in Indonesia’s interests to be passive towards the injustices we see to today against Myanmar’s people by the violent rule of the Tatmadaw. On the contrary, it is also written in the preamble of Indonesia’s Constitution to ‘uphold world order based on independence, eternal peace, and social justice’.
Indonesia has recently displayed commitment to world order, peace as well as mutual prosperity as seen in its current presidency over the G20 where it has especially invited Ukraine to a summit so that there can be dialogue to resolve the Russo-Ukrainian war, which continues to affect the global economy and stability today. Furthermore is the recent diplomatic visits from Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to both Ukraine and Russia to facilitate peace talks between the warring nations. Indonesia should display similar determination to peacefully resolve the conflict in Myanmar as ASEAN’s next chairman.
In order to do so, ASEAN and its member states should consider two things. The first is to unanimously assert that the military Junta have tremendously failed to establish itself as a peaceful and reliable government for the people of Myanmar fit to represent them in the international community.
In response, if the Junta still aspires to be integrated into international relations with the regional bloc, it has to heavily expedite ending the bombings, burnings and armed fighting; engage in peace talks with the NUG and PDF; and allow humanitarian aid for people in Myanmar including for the arrested political prisoners who need to be shown in good care.
Secondly, ASEAN needs to prepare to further shift its political engagement in Myanmar away from the Tatmadaw and towards the National Unity Government, who have so far shown themselves to be more favoured by the people and reliable in administering the country. The NUG have also not been quiet in its efforts to garner ASEAN’s attention.
NUG’s Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung even attended the ASEAN Summit in Washington earlier this year in May where she met with her counterpart from Malaysia. She has since vocalised that unlike the Junta, the NUG supports and is prepared to fulfil the Five-Point Consensus but asked whether ASEAN is prepared if the military continues to ignore its implementation and worsen the country’s stability and security.
Thousands of Burmese continue to suffer under armed fighting and getting their homes destroyed as the Tatmadaw endlessly delays following the roadmap to recovery. In turn, ASEAN continues to face global pressure to resolve the conflict as peacefully and quickly as possible. The regional bloc should be sterner and more prepared to shift in how it will address the violence in Myanmar.
Rifqy Tenribali Eshanasir is a Junior Researcher at the Centre for Peace Conflict and Democracy, Hasanuddin University, and an Alumnus of International Relations and Peace Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan.