Asean should institutionalise office of special envoy for continuity of efforts in resolving Myanmar crisis - Think tank

14 Jul 2023 12:02pm
Head of Department of International Relations at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, Dr Lina A. Alexandra - BERNAMA
Head of Department of International Relations at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, Dr Lina A. Alexandra - BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Asean should look to institutionalise the existing ‘Office of the Special Envoy’ mooted by Indonesia to deal with the deepening conflict in Myanmar, an analyst said citing continuity of efforts needed to resolve the quagmire in the junta ruled state.

The Office of the Special Envoy, which is to facilitate the peace process in Myanmar, was initiated by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in January 2023 soon after the republic assumed the rotating Chair of Asean.

Head of Department of International Relations at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, Dr Lina A. Alexandra said Indonesia should convince and get the support from other Asean member states to institutionalise the office of special envoy as ‘Asean Office on Myanmar’.

Institutionalising the office will provide stability and continuity to the efforts that the bloc undertakes to resolve the Myanmar problem.

"The reason is Myanmar’s crisis cannot be handled only within the one year term of chairmanship. When you apply Chair of Special Envoy automatically the working period is one year, when the term finishes a new Chair will take over, meaning to start from zero again.

"There is no sustainability. We need to look beyond the current chairmanship,” she told Bernama in a Zoom interview from Jakarta.

As the curtains draw on Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meeting in Jakarta on Friday, Myanmar’s deteriorating political and humanitarian crisis also continue to dominate headlines amid a host of other global issues

The 10-member bloc also appeared to be further divided by the crisis that flared up after the junta ousted the civilian government on 1 Feb 2021.

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Asean has barred Myanmar military leaders from attending any of its meetings after the junta failed to abide by the Five-Point Consensus (5PC) peace plan that was agreed in April 2021.

In June, Thailand held an informal meeting to ‘re-engage’ with the junta but it was snubbed by other member states including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Commenting on the controversial meeting, Lina said such unilateral meeting is not just detrimental to Asean’s image and collective efforts but also has the tendency to legitimise the junta.

Albeit calls for Asean to find other solutions to replace the ‘futile’ 5PC, Lina said the 5PC, however, remains the best approach for now unless Asean could come up with innovative and creative breakthrough to resolve the crisis.

"It is the only instrument, plan that Asean has, to be legitimate to deal with Myanmar crisis. If we don’t have the 5PC, we don’t have the legitimacy,” Lina who is also Coordinator for CSIS Myanmar Initiative Programme said.

To date, Indonesia as the current Chair had conducted more than 70 engagements with various stakeholders in Myanmar including key players and various ethnic groups.

"On the outside, we see it’s purely between the SAC (State Administration Council) and NUG (National Unity Government), but now we understand more the needs of other different stakeholders, their interests, their agenda. More importantly how we should approach the crisis more comprehensively.

"We try to underline to the government that these engagements, should at least lead to something real. That is a roadmap on the implementation plan for Asean efforts in Myanmar, and that should go back to the points in the 5PC,” she said.

They are immediate cessation of violence, start constructive political dialogues with all stakeholders, for the Asean Chair to facilitate mediation of dialogue process, facilitation of humanitarian aids and for the special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Meanwhile, prominent scholar Prof Kishore Mahbubani said while Myanmar crisis is a big problem, it should not overshadow other current geopolitical challenges faced by the regional organisation.

"Myanmar is of course is a big problem. But it’s very important that Asean doesn’t get distracted by it because between US-China contest and the Myanmar issue, the US-China contest is more dangerous for Asean,” he told Bernama.

He also opined that Asean should stick to the 5PC as a way to help resolving the crisis.

"Myanmar issue would take some time to resolve. There is no simple, straight forward and easy solution to it. So we must be patient and let time solve it,” Kishore said.

On the same page Lina also believes that there will be light at the end of the tunnel to the crisis, but it would really depend on how committed Asean is working towards the solution.

"Unity is very important. If we bring our minds together and move in the same direction, there will be great result in the end. If everyone want to do their own way, splitting up, there will be very blur and grim future for Asean,” she said.

Myanmar joined Asean in July 23, 1997. - BERNAMA

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