ASEAN’s Call for a Myanmar-Owned Solution

VIENTIANE — The crisis in Myanmar, triggered by the military coup three years ago, continues to cast a shadow over the region. In a historic meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers held in Laos, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took a decisive step toward addressing the turmoil in Myanmar.

A Legacy of Diplomacy

ASEAN, renowned for its commitment to regional stability and cooperation, faces a daunting challenge. The Myanmar coup of February 1st , 2021 disrupted the bloc’s vision of unity and prosperity for its 655 million citizens. Now, 55 million people in Myanmar live under the threat of violence and arbitrary arrests.

From Silence to Action

For decades, ASEAN maintained a delicate balance, shielding Myanmar from international isolation and sanctions. When Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997, despite Western opposition due to its military rule, the bloc believed in its ability to resolve domestic issues internally. The unexpected reforms in 2011, where the military voluntarily loosened its grip on power, seemed to vindicate ASEAN’s approach.

However, history repeats itself. With Myanmar once again under military rule, ASEAN faces a critical dilemma. Should the entire ASEAN family stake its reputation to support an errant member? The answer lies in the ASEAN Chair’s statement issued on March 2nd.

A Clear Stand

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have unequivocally condemned the junta’s heavy-handed approach, urging an end to violence and a return to normalcy. While other ASEAN members’ rhetoric has been more subdued, they remain open to engaging with Myanmar’s military leaders. The situation demands urgent action.

Crafting a Path Forward
  1. Ceasefire Priority: The immediate focus must be on securing a ceasefire. Channels of communication between ASEAN and Myanmar’s military leaders remain open, providing a glimmer of hope.
  2. Inclusive Dialogue: Recognizing that conflicting parties within Myanmar cannot currently sit down for direct negotiations, ASEAN proposes informal meetings. These gatherings would bring together official and non-official representatives from various stakeholders: the Tatmadaw (military), the National League for Democracy, ethnic groups, civil society, and the private sector. The United Nations and key international partners would provide support and mediate.
  3. Myanmar-Owned Solution: ASEAN’s commitment lies in fostering an inclusive political solution that is “Myanmar-owned and Myanmar-led.” The path to durable peace and national reconciliation must involve all concerned parties.
A Beacon of Hope

As the crisis unfolds, ASEAN’s role transcends mere diplomacy. It embodies the delicate balance between tradition and innovation, where regional unity meets the urgency of the present. The people of Myanmar deserve a future free from violence, and ASEAN stands ready to navigate these troubled waters. (hz)