Following a tour of inter-regional diplomatic visits, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to convene a special meeting in Jakarta to address the crisis in Myanmar, which continues to be on the verge of a nationwide civil war.
The governments of Malaysia and Brunei made the announcement yesterday, following a meeting between Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of Brunei, who holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN for 2021.
At the end of a joint statement released at the close of the meeting, the two leaders said they agreed that ASEAN leaders would meet to discuss ongoing developments in Myanmar and appointed their respective ministers and senior officials to undertake the necessary preparations for the meeting to be held in ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia. The two sides did not announce a date for the special summit.
Claiming that it remains in ASEAN’s best interest to see Myanmar resolve the crisis and regain stability, the statement also expressed its usual concern about the deteriorating situation inside the country and called on all parties to refrain from inciting violence. further, and that all parties do immediately exercise maximum content and flexibility. According to the Association for the Relief of Political Prisoners, at least 570 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, and more than 3,000 arrested.
Whenever it happens, the meeting will be the culmination of efforts by key ASEAN member countries, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, to involve the bloc more in resolving the Myanmar crisis. These diplomatic efforts represent an awareness that the military coup and its aftermath have put the ASEANs in credibility, questioning the legitimacy of its claim to occupy a central position in regional diplomacy.
For example, now that most Western governments have strongly condemned the coup, imposing sanctions on key military figures and their economic interests, it is hard to see any of them agreeing to sit at the same table with the figures. at the ASEAN Summit and accompanying meetings later this year. Indeed, similar considerations prompted ASEAN’s decision to push Myanmar give up her presidency of the bloc in 2006.
Less is less clear what ASEAN can do this time to resolve the situation. The Malaysian and Brunei announcement came days after anti-coup forces, led by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) Representative Committee, a group of elected parliamentarians formally announced plans to form a unity government, issued an interim constitution and formally declared invalid the constitution drafted by the army in 2008.
As I noted last week, the movement heralds the creation of a more cohesive and formalized parallel government able to make a more serious effort for international recognition. He also seeks to withdraw the support of a large number of Myanmars ethnic armed organizations, whose support will be vital if the anti-coup movement prevails.
In the short term, the creation of a parallel government is likely to highlight the lines of conflict between the military and a broad-based anti-coup movement, demanding not only a change of power on February 1, but also the permanent removal of the military from Myanmar politics and the reconstruction of the country as an inclusive federal democracy.
With CRPH and the United Civil Disobedience Movement now starting to raise funds, and defending the intention of forming a united federal army to fight the Tatmadaw, there is a growing likelihood of civil strife in Myanmars which have flared up almost non-stop since the country’s independence in 1948 spanning the entire country. Last week a UN special envoy warning that Burma is on the verge of spiraling into a failed state.
The crisis thus appears as a war to the end between the military caste and its opponents, with neither side showing much willingness yet to compromise, or even engage in negotiations, with the other side.
All this is a challenging node to choose ASEAN, which is limited by its principles of non-interference and consensus functioning. While bloc members have interpreted the previous principle flexibly in the past, such as when it prompted Myanmar to relinquish its presidency in 2006, turning all 10 bloc member states toward a consensus for a more proactive approach would be a daunting challenge.
Even then, ASEAN’s diplomatic route is likely to be to mediate talks between the military junta and CRPH representatives, possibly with the involvement of other international players. But this is not guaranteed to be accepted by any of the warring groups, nor the anti-coup protesters, for whom any hint of compromise in the negotiations equals support for the junta, nor the generals in their Naypyidaw bunkers, the recent actions of which similarly show little willingness to come to the table.
Whenever the summit takes place, it will require a period of agile supernatural creative diplomacy, if it is to end with anything other than a recital of disturbing formulas.
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