Myanmar is in crisis, again

29 Jul 2022 01:12pm
Illustration photo: 123RF
Illustration photo: 123RF

Myanmar has once again managed to capture international attention. This is following the announcement made by the ruling military that it had executed four pro-democracy activists, who resisted the junta’s brazen power grab in February last year.

Indeed, the timing could not have been better.

The announcement was made just days after the Asean special envoy concluded his second visit to Nay Pyi Daw, the capital city of Myanmar.

Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Prak Sokhonn visited strife-torn Myanmar in an attempt to mediate peace dialogues among all concerned parties, as the country has plunged into a state of deep uncertainty.

In fact, Sokhonn made a press conference after his trip to provide a glimpse of his visit to the country. And in an interview with Channel News Asia, he even indicated that the third visit plan is currently underway, essentially including a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite this, the ruling military’s announcement of the execution caught Sokhonn by surprise, and so as the wider international community.

At the regional level, Asean leaders had banned the military’s junta representatives from attending the bloc meetings since last year, a decision made after the regional leaders were dissatisfied with the progress and cooperation to implement the Five-Point Consensus (5PC).

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The 5PC as the bloc’s peace plan, among others, calls for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue for a peaceful resolution, mediation by the Asean special envoy, to expedite humanitarian assistance, and visit by Asean special envoy’s delegation to meet all relevant stakeholders for a comprehensive consultation.

Recently, growing concerns emerge due to the lack of substantial progress to restore peace in the country.

And of all Asean member states, Malaysia appears standout to pressure the ruling military, of late.

This week, Malaysia’s foreign minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah met with United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Dr Noeleen Heyzer at the Malaysian parliament and called the execution “a crime against humanity”.

Earlier in May, Malaysia’s foreign minister also met with the Foreign Minister of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) Zin Mar Aung in Washington, much to the chagrin of the junta.

Essentially, the NUG comprised of exiled elected lawmakers who were ousted by the junta in the coup last year. The ruling military even declared the NUG an illegal and terrorist organization.

Indeed, the execution of the pro-democracy activists is seen as a setback to Asean.

For one, it is in contrary to the regional bloc’s peace plan - the Asean’s 5PC. Despite it being agreed in April last year, there was no concrete development on the implementation.

In lieu of this, the ruling military shows no remorse.

After all, it seems there is no singular fix for a long quagmire such as Myanmar.

Even the UN took more than twenty years in mediation efforts and is dubbed as one of the longest diplomatic efforts in the history of the world body.

Since 1993, the UN special envoy was accorded a mandate from the UN General Assembly.

Referred to as the “Good Office”, it was tasked to implement annual resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar alongside mediating between the military’s junta and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Indeed, talks about isolating Myanmar from international fora may be a counterintuitive measure too. Take Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for instance. Despite massive pressure from the European Union and the United States, elsewhere, developing countries embrace Russia.

In a way, Russia has redirected its foreign policy to other developing countries who in dire need of food and energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine war. Despite Russia being shunned on various international platforms, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was seen in cordial conversation with developing nations. As recent as last week, Lavrov attended the Arab League and was well-received.

In fact, Myanmar’s military had a long history of intransigence to external pressure, be it diplomatic sanction, external pressure, and accountability for crimes against humanity.

While calls are mounting for Asean to issue an ultimatum against the recalcitrant member state, the bloc is indeed walking a diplomatic tightrope.

For one, if Asean pursues a hardline approach against the military’s junta, it risks closing a door of negotiations. The work of gaining access to proper humanitarian assistance for the Myanmar people will be in vain. But if Asean does not take tougher actions, the bloc would appear weak and lose credibility.

Indeed, it is a billion-dollar question when will the military’s junta heed Asean’s advice.

As of now, the regional bloc is facing an uphill task. It needs to seek a constructive solution, where the military’s junta must be persuaded to implement the 5PC immediately in a meaningful way, and by doing so, even its interests will be best served.

However, if the military’s junta continues systemic suppression and prosecution of peaceful protesters, the onus is on Myanmar.

A heated discussion is expected next week as Asean meetings are scheduled to take place.

Asean leaders will delve into what necessary action to respond to Myanmar accordingly. To pressure Myanmar to leave the bloc temporarily may not be inscribed in the Asean charter, but it remains to be seen if leaders want to discuss it or not, especially when Asean’s patience is wearing thin.

Nik Luqman is a foreign affairs columnist and was a research fellow at IKMAS UKM-Nippon Foundation. He tweets @NLuqman

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