ASEAN / Millitary · May 3, 2021

ASEAN summit: Shooting star of no cosmic impact

May 3, 2021
The Jakarta Post
(c) 2021 The Jakarta Post
Phar Kim Beng and Osman Erdogdu , Kuala Lumpur/Istanbul

According to the ASEAN chairman’s statement issued following the ASEAN Special Meeting over the democratic reversal by the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, five points were agreed by the leaders or their representatives — with the consent of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the Tatmadaw.

They are first, an “immediate cessation of violence”; second, restraint by all parties in the ceasefire; third, all parties to commence “constructive dialogue”; fourth, the appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN chair who shall mediate the dialogue; and finally, ASEAN is to provide humanitarian assistance through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Response (AHA).

In light of the short time frame between now and June 2021 when the ASEAN Leaders Summit will be held in Brunei, the special envoy and delegation will visit Myanmar to meet with all parties first.That said, the summit has already failed on first impact, to inspire any credence in its concept of ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Charter.

ASEAN must impress the international community with a fresh approach consistent with what the National Unity Government (NUG) insists. A coup is a coup by any name. Yet three weeks ago Vietnam, China, and Russia voted in the United Nations Security Council that it was not. If so, explain it to NUG. If not, these countries risk mob fury; as happened to China unfortunately, as their factories were burned.

It is also essential for ASEAN to get it right from the get-go. Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan and the whole of the of European Union (EU) regard the takeover as a coup. They, with major investors, wanted to see whether ASEAN would dither, it did.

It did not call for the immediate release of the political detainees, the first and absolute demand of the NUG.

The first draft of the chairman’s statement called for the immediate release of more than 4,000 political detainees by Gen. Min.The final statement on April 24 was the complete opposite; after three days of intense debate. Why? ASEAN kept its lips sealed.

By taking no principled stance, how can ASEAN represent the opening statement of its own ASEAN Charter: We the people. Who are we? Who is ASEAN? Where is the emphasis on the “people”? This alone was a sign of the granular diplomatic collapse of ASEAN.

Yet Gen. Min forbade members of the NUG from attending the special summit. Among others, the summit affirmed that an ASEAN special envoy and delegation would visit Myanmar to meet with all parties.

While ASEAN may be quick to call it a major breakthrough, in enlisting a special envoy, this mechanism is bound to fail. Why?

The situation since 2017 has not been stable. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has not had any talks or direct engagement with Gen. Min. The latter’s retirement is fast approaching in July 2021.

One must further understand that Gen. Min is a late bloomer. He made three attempts before qualifying as a member of the Tatmadaw. His star had only begun to shine after 2007, when he crushed the Shan rebellion, which was the weakest of over two dozen insurgencies.

When the late former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan acted as a special envoy to mitigate the “crimes verging on a genocide” against the Rohingya in Rakhine, he floundered.

The high status of Annan was brought crashing down like a dud. That is Myanmar 101 for anyone keen to get the country going. To the Tatmadaw: We lead you follow; as opposed to any ASEAN, or UN even, great power initiative.

The very fact that the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is a personal friend of Gen. Min, swiftly declined to attend the event at all, literally means there was no consensus.

To be sure, ASEAN had made an exception on this issue before. During the former Singaporean prime minister’s tenure, Goh Chok Tong affirmed: “In ASEAN, when one can run, he must not be asked to walk.”

Thus, a 10-minus-one decision-making mechanism for the first time since 1992 was accepted. Not all 10 member states need to show up necessarily. But this caveat applies to regional economic integration, not political issues such as Myanmar.

In this vein, it is pointless to even revisit what was said, why it was said, or, the way it was said over three days. The ASEAN Charter ratified in 2009 was cast aside.

Something old remained, the ASEAN Secretariat was the textual, audio and video transcriber. Its building is new, its methods are old. The fact is no consensus was truly achieved at the Special ASEAN Summit. The cosmic impact of the “shooting star”, provided a nice optic.

Thus, when the chairman’s statement was verbose to the point of cloaking the whole subject of Myanmar altogether, literally two months away from the actual ASEAN Leaders Summit in Brunei Darussalam, the same Myanmar issue will be discussed: Where are the political detainees? Unless they are freed, Gen. Min cannot promise the world, the sun, the stars and the moon.

As things are, the chairman’s final wordy statement was simply to overlook the weaknesses of the “five-point consensus” for now.

While the Tatmadaw accepted the ceasefire, will the ceasefire be permanent? Will the Tatmadaw even uphold it across different parts of Myanmar?

In the summit ASEAN Secretary-General Datuk Ling Hong Hai was asked to undertake the onerous task of flying into Myanmar to conduct a preliminary needs assessment (PNA).

Let it be known a PNA is but a standard report, it is vulnerable to misrepresentation. The secretary-general of ASEAN will be led through a series of guided Potemkin tours.


Phar Kim Beng and Osman Erdogdu are respectively founder/CEO and chief knowledge officer of Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena (