Myanmar, formerly known as colonial Burma, is perhaps the most controversial member state in ASEAN today.
What happened on February 1, 2021, when the Tatmadaw or Myanmar military seized power in a coup against the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with several senior leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, is without a doubt a backlash and a major setback from the growing and developing democratization process that is taking place in this country.
This political crisis has received international criticism from the West, as well as from several Asian countries and the United Nations (UN). The European Union (EU) has warned Myanmar generals about a possible economic embargo and other forms of sanctions. In fact, Asian countries such as China and Bangladesh ask all parties in Myanmar to exercise restraint, respect the constitution and uphold “peace and stability”.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the other hand, of which Myanmar is a member state, is calling for “dialogue, reconciliation and a return to normalcy”. However, several ASEAN member countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, have treated the ongoing civil unrest in Myanmar as an “internal affair” thus overshadowing a “hands-off policy” towards political turmoil in the country.
The “hands-off policy” approach or what is known as “wait and see” by several ASEAN member countries towards the ongoing political turbulence in Myanmar, is a product and consequence of ASEAN’s “non-interference” principle, – a normative framework intended to contain , restrict and prevent ASEAN member countries from interfering in their respective domestic affairs.
So far, ASEAN has historically supported a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member countries.
The principle of non-interference protects and guarantees the independence and sovereignty of ASEAN member countries. This principle is strengthened by a decision-making process that is based on “deliberation and consensus” and focuses on the peaceful settlement of disputes between countries, but remains silent in resolving intra-state conflicts of ASEAN member countries, which more or less have regional impacts and impacts on regional security, especially human security. .
For your information, the ASEAN non-interference principle is the original core foundation that regulates how ASEAN member countries conduct regional relations with each other. This principle is contained in several ASEAN documents including the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, which was reaffirmed in the 1997 Kuala Lumpur Declaration and further strengthened in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), where the principle was explicitly referenced. is one of the fundamental principles of ASEAN.
Hence, time and again, the principle has arguably been at the center of debate, controversy and argument, which ASEAN deems flawed as to why it is restricted from responding collectively to the problems and internal political challenges of its member states. Such limitations in ASEAN behavior are reflected in how they have done little to respond to the repressive and grim political situation in Myanmar since the start of military rule in the country in 1962
Exceptions To The Rules
Nevertheless, arguably, ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the case of Myanmar must be challenged as its citizens demand democracy to take root in their country which has been plundered by the military since 1962.
If we look closely, the Myanmar case should not only rest on “state sovereignty”, but should be tied more to problems and concerns for the “human security” of the Burmese people. The political turmoil in the country caused by the military coup has further exacerbated the already grim situation in the country at the time of the coronavirus pandemic. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the country’s response to the pandemic has become very limited, not only affecting the economy but also threatening the lives of local residents.
Given the grim human security situation in Myanmar coupled with the humanitarian concerns related to the Rohingya, the Myanmar case should not be treated by ASEAN and its member states as “an internal or domestic affair,” but as a regional problem if not an international one. difficulties that require the attention of ASEAN and the international community.
While there is no doubt that everyone will agree on the importance of a policy of non-interference in the conduct of the bloc’s regional affairs, the principle should at least, if possible, not be adopted by ASEAN in absolute terms in the case of Myanmar.
ASEAN should at least deal with this situation using a more flexible approach that will allow open discussion of any urgent action its member states can take to reduce political tensions, prevent bloodshed and end hostility by the military junta. This can help prevent the loss of life and the deterioration of the economic and political situation in the country.
What ASEAN Can Do?
ASEAN must treat the Myanmar issue as the most pressing issue because of two important considerations.
First, ASEAN is very important in responding to the current vulnerability of human security in terms of the welfare and safety of the Myanmar people from political persecution and the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, to avoid a repeat of the spill-over effect that may be generated by the ongoing political turmoil in Myanmar, which could have a negative impact on neighboring countries.
For example, if the crisis escalated to unprecedented levels and was not resolved peacefully, it would more or less produce the same cross-border effects exemplified after the 1988 student uprising and the May 1990 elections.
This may include a once again exodus of Burmese refugees, political asylum seekers, illegal migrants, and Rohingya to neighboring countries such as Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia to say the least; burden the governments of these countries.
If these potential transboundary problems and impacts are to be prevented from recurring, ASEAN member states must deal with the Myanmar disaster head-on. ASEAN can at least exert pressure on the military junta to first and foremost respect the results of the 8 November 2020 election, release Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, then return to the negotiating table and discuss with the legally formed and democratically elected. NLD members on how they can work together to resolve their differences.
Done right, it will more or less return some elements of normality to Myanmar.
Additionally, the bloc could send a high-level ASEAN delegation to Myanmar to persuade the military junta to hold open political talks and dialogue with the NLD. Likewise, ASEAN must act as quickly as possible to bring all relevant parties to the negotiating table before the situation worsens.
If ASEAN takes these progressive steps, other international organizations and states will pay greater respect to it, and ASEAN will gain greater relevance and credibility among the citizens of the region and the wider international community.
Given the current disturbing and worrying political climate, Myanmar’s problem is an urgent one.
ASEAN and the other international community must not allow the political situation in Myanmar to worsen because it will worsen an already dire situation for its people.
ASEAN member states must heed the call of the Myanmar people for assistance and assistance. Their safety and security depend heavily on the continued support of the international community.
On this note, ASEAN must affirm its commitment to democracy and not turn a blind eye; rather, it should help build solidarity with the Myanmar people once again as they fight for freedom, liberty and democracy.
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