ASEAN struggles to reach consensus on Myanmar crisis


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers continue to grapple with finding a unified stance on the Myanmar crisis, even after the conclusion of the bloc’s ministerial meeting. Since the military coup in February 2021 that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, Myanmar has been plagued by deadly violence and a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, called for a political solution to the crisis during the two-day foreign minister talks. However, more than two years after the coup, the bloc remains divided, and its efforts to establish peace have yielded no significant results. The junta in Myanmar has chosen to disregard international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents.

As of Thursday, the ASEAN ministers have yet to agree on a communique regarding the crisis. A Southeast Asian diplomat, speaking anonymously, mentioned that a joint statement is still being worked out and is expected to be released later in the day. The diplomat did not provide reasons for the delay, but an initial draft seen by AFP on Tuesday revealed that the section on Myanmar was left blank as member states struggled with its content and language.

Thailand has pursued a separate approach to resolving the Myanmar issue by engaging directly with the Myanmar junta and other stakeholders in the conflict. Last month, Bangkok hosted an “informal talk” with the junta’s foreign minister, which further divided the ASEAN bloc. During the ASEAN talks on Wednesday, Thailand’s top diplomat announced that he had met with Suu Kyi the previous week. Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the coup and sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison by a junta court, was reported to be in good health. The Thai foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, stated that they had discussed the need for re-engagement with Myanmar given the lack of improvement over the past two years.

Indonesia has emphasized that any additional initiatives should support ASEAN’s existing five-point peace plan, which aims to end the violence and facilitate dialogue. The Southeast Asian diplomat speaking to AFP mentioned that ASEAN members would support Thailand’s initiative if it complements the chair’s role. Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir stated that all members are working towards the common goal of ensuring a safe, stable, and prosperous Southeast Asia.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, highlighted the country’s engagement in “quiet diplomacy” with all parties involved in the Myanmar conflict. During its tenure as chair, Indonesia has conducted over 110 engagements related to Myanmar. However, analysts have observed that Thailand has taken the lead in addressing the crisis, undermining ASEAN’s efforts and shifting the negotiation center to Bangkok.

On Thursday, Southeast Asian ministers held talks with their counterparts from South Korea, Japan, and China in the ASEAN-plus-three format. Economic cooperation, the disputed South China Sea, and the Myanmar crisis were expected to feature prominently on the agenda. Analysts suggest that Japan and South Korea have a vested interest in preventing Myanmar from gravitating towards China’s influence.

China was represented at the talks by top diplomat Wang Yi, as Foreign Minister Qin Gang withdrew for health reasons, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. Following the ASEAN-plus-three meeting, Wang was scheduled to have a second round of talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, aiming to manage tensions between the two countries.

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