Fissures deepen within Asean over ‘lost cause’ Myanmar

It has been eight months since the military overthrew the elected government in Myanmar.

Yet, there has not been any concrete steps taken by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in addressing the power grab that resulted in hundreds of thousands fleeing the country, and its economy tanking.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, yesterday expressed disappointment over the Myanmar junta’s refusal to allow Asean’s special envoy full access to individuals in the country.

“Unless there is progress, it would be difficult to have the chairman of the State Administration Council of Myanmar at the Asean Summit (scheduled later this month),” Saifuddin said.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights chair, Charles Santiago, called it a “frustrating” affair.

“It’s frustrating for all, especially the (Myanmar) people,” said Santiago.

Santiago, who is also Klang MP, had grown tired of attending numerous “closed-door, and open-door meetings”. In short, Asean has been all talk, but no action.

Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister, Erywan Yusof, was selected to lead an Asean special mission to facilitate dialogue in Myanmar. Yet, his trip could turn out to be a waste of time as Myanmar’s junta had said that it was unlikely to let Erywan meet ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, from the National League of Democracy (NLD) party. The NLD won the election last year, but its time in office was cut short by the military coup in February.

Suu Kyi, 76, is facing several charges, including sedition, flouting Covid-19 restrictions during the election, and illegally importing walkie-talkies.

Time is also running out for those intending to make a difference.

With slightly over two months left before the year ends, Cambodia will take over as Asean chair next year. Santiago feared this would scupper efforts to bring democracy back to Myanmar.

This was because Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, had acknowledged Myanmar’s military government, and had even pledged to help control the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

“Erywan is in a bind. If he goes to Myanmar and doesn’t get to meet Suu Kyi, then what can he do? With Cambodia being the chair next year, nothing is going to happen.”

The political and economic instability resulted in a mass exodus of Myanmar nationals out of the country. The ripple effect would mean an influx of migrants into neighbouring nations, namely India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

“The best strategy is to stop them (Myanmar nationals) from going out, but that’s not happening. As such, more resources must be placed at the borders to provide medical and food support, especially for the women, children and the infirm, who are escaping from Myanmar.

“This is where Asean has to grow a backbone. Either say Myanmar is out of Asean or slap them with a three-year suspension.”

Santiago was quick to add that the division within Asean over this issue was evident.

“Asean must come up with a decision, but we see a division among the member states in this matter. There are some countries that want democracy in Myanmar, there are others who support military rule.

“It looks like Myanmar is a lost cause. The victims are its people. We will see more refugees; the narcotics trade will increase, and so too, will weapons smuggling. The whole region will be affected,” he added.