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Niyam asked: How is Myanmar a test case for ASEAN Centrality and Credibility?

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  • Abhay K Singh replies: Since the last two years, ASEAN has faced significant criticism for its lack of effective action towards the restoration of democracy, rule of law and effective governance in Myanmar. It has often been argued that the Myanmar imbroglio has significantly undermined ASEAN’s reputation in the international arena and has cast doubts on the concept of ‘ASEAN centrality’.

    During the immediate aftermath of the coup, ASEAN indeed adopted a wait-and-watch approach as per the key principles of the ASEAN charter regarding non-interference in the internal affairs of the member country. Member states were in a quandary since the Myanmar coup seemed to have breached the ASEAN Charter when viewed through the lens of the rule of law, good governance, and democracy, but any prospective response by ASEAN would appear to be against the bloc’s cherished principle of non-interference.

    With the Intensification of violent repression in Myanmar, ASEAN overcame the self-imposed impasse and formulated the Five Point Consensus in April 2021 and appointed a Special Envoy to oversee its implementation. This consensus provided a graduated approach for ASEAN to begin negotiations with the military regime in Myanamar with calls for an end to violence and beginning of political discussions with all parties. Following lack of cooperation from the military junta in facilitating the meeting of ASEAN’s Special Envoy with all parties concerned, ASEAN decided to disinvite members of the military Junta from ASEAN events.

    Even after two years, the political crisis triggered by the coup remains one of the biggest challenges for ASEAN. The meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Jakarta in February 2023 was overshadowed by the deteriorating situation in military-ruled Myanmar, despite an agenda focused on food, energy security and cooperation in finance and health. Just a day before the meeting, the junta announced an extension of the emergency rule.  The meeting broadly reflected ASEAN’s disappointment with its lack of progress in Myanmar, despite a growing countermovement and global threats of sanctions and political exclusion.

    Unarguably, the Myanmar issue is important not only for maintaining stability and prosperity in the region but also for strengthening the legitimacy and functioning of ASEAN. The current chair of ASEAN, Indonesia, has vowed not to be "held hostage" by the Myanmar issue. In an attempt to quell doubts about ASEAN's capability and credibility, Jakarta has affirmed the position of ASEAN to unitedly implement the Five-Point Consensus to tackle the political crisis in Myanmar.

    Posted on 09 February 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.