A Timeline of the Myanmar Junta’s Engagement With ASEAN

By The Irrawaddy 14 October 2021

Over the nine months since the coup in February, Myanmar has been a headache for ASEAN, mainly due to the social and political turmoil caused by its military rulers. Their deadly response to protesters has disgusted the world, including some countries in the regional 10-member bloc. The association has been under international pressure to tame the regime in Myanmar, which has been a member of ASEAN since 1997. Principally, the bloc is hamstrung by its basic policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations; based on history, no one had much hope that the group’s intervention in Myanmar would bring any meaningful change. Despite these hiccups, ASEAN this time seems a bit bolder than in the past, as its special envoy continues to insist on being allowed to meet all stakeholders in Myanmar politics, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—something the regime has refused to allow. Following the tussle, bloc members are now considering whether to exclude the junta leader from the upcoming summit scheduled for later this month. If it happens, it would be a huge blow to the junta, which has desperately been seeking official recognition from other countries, especially those in ASEAN, as Myanmar’s rightful government. Here is a timeline of key events in the engagement between the regime and the regional bloc dating back to the day of the takeover.

Feb. 1: ASEAN as a whole was silent on the first day of the Myanmar coup but member countries like Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia raised concerns over the takeover and urged dialogue between the military and the National League for Democracy. But Thailand said the military takeover was Myanmar’s “internal affair.” Cambodia echoed that view, as did the Philippines.

Feb. 24: Myanmar’s military-appointed Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin met his Indonesian and Thai counterparts in Bangkok. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she asked the Myanmar official during the meeting to “prioritize the safety and well-being” of his country’s people. After the gathering, the Thai Foreign Ministry said it supported peace and stability in Myanmar, and hoped to see the situation improve for the sake of the country’s people.

March 2: ASEAN foreign ministers held an informal meeting. The ASEAN chair’s statement issued after the meeting said the ministers “expressed our concern on the situation in Myanmar and called on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility.” It added, “In this regard, we expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.”

March 18Singapore’s military chief told Myanmar junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that he had “grave concern” over Myanmar security forces’ deadly crackdowns on unarmed civilians and urged his Myanmar counterpart to refrain from using lethal force against them. The comments came during the 18th ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Meeting (ACDFM), which was held virtually. At the time of the meeting, Myanmar security forces had killed more than 200 anti-regime protesters.

March 19: Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for a special ASEAN summit to address the Myanmar situation, as harsh crackdowns on anti-coup protesters continued. His call for an emergency ASEAN summit was backed by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

April 24: Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing attended the ASEAN summit on Myanmar in Jakarta, his first trip abroad since the takeover in February. During the meeting, the leaders reached a five-point consensus urging an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate dialogue, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.

Myanmar regime leader Min Aung Hlaing and his team attend the summit in Jakarta in April 2021. / Cincds

After the meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the media that the Myanmar junta leader “said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful, that he was not opposed to ASEAN playing a constructive role, or an ASEAN delegation visit, or humanitarian assistance, and that they would move forward and engage with ASEAN in a constructive way.” The summit failed to call for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

April 26: In a statement by the governing body of the regime, the State Administration Council (SAC), junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said ASEAN’s five-point consensus would be considered after stability returned, as that was the current priority for the crisis-hit country, including maintaining law and order and restoring community peace and tranquility.

May 4: Despite ASEAN’s call on the military junta to end the ongoing violence in Myanmar, the brutality continued unabated. During a period of 11 days, from April 24 (when Min Aung Hlaing attended the summit) to May 4, his troops killed at least 20 more people. Even on the day of the summit, as the ASEAN leaders sat with the coup leader in Jakarta on April 24, his troops killed at least three civilians and continued brutal crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators demanding the restoration of democracy.

June 4: ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s foreign affairs minister, met with Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. They discussed cooperating with Myanmar on humanitarian issues, according to the military’s mouthpiece Myawady TV. But the broadcaster didn’t report on Erywan’s submission of a list of nominees for the special envoy to Min Aung Hlaing.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing with the foreign minister of Brunei and the ASEAN secretary-general in Naypyitaw in June. / Global New Light of Myanmar

June 5: During a meeting with the junta leader, Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai said Beijing supported ASEAN’s engagement with Myanmar and hoped for the restoration of peace and stability. The Chinese Embassy posted on Facebook that “China sincerely hopes for the earlier restoration of peace and stability in Myanmar and supports the implementation of consensus by ASEAN and Myanmar.”

July 14: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged ASEAN to take immediate action “to hold the Burmese [Myanmar] regime accountable” to the consensus forged in April by the bloc’s heads of state with Myanmar’s military leader.

Aug. 3: ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to appoint Erywan Yusof as the group’s special envoy, ending a three-month-long tussle among the ASEAN members. His mission in Myanmar includes building trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned and to provide a clear timeline on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus. The regime said it was OK with the appointment but would have preferred Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Virasakdi Futrakul.

Erywan Yusof addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 74th session in 2019. / UN

Aug. 20: Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said “ASEAN is not as effective or as quick as we would have hoped for,” while discussing the lack of progress on special envoy Erywan Yusof making his first visit to Myanmar—something he has yet to do.

Aug. 31: ASEAN special envoy Erywan Yusof proposed to junta-appointed Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin a four-month ceasefire until the end of this year to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid to Myanmar. The envoy said the regime accepted his call.

Sept. 6: Myanmar’s military regime denied accepting the call for a four-month ceasefire made by the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar. Junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun said U Wunna Maung Lwin did not say that Myanmar had agreed to Erywan Yusof’s call, while adding that the regime would not block humanitarian assistance or bar the visit of the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar.

Oct 4: The Irrawaddy learned Myanmar’s military regime had rejected a request for a meeting later in the month between the country’s ousted leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar. Instead of meeting with the detained State Counselor, ASEAN envoy Erywan Yusof was offered a meeting with former Vice President Henry Van Thio and former Lower House speaker T Khun Myat, sources said. ASEAN’s envoy had been in talks with the regime since September over the terms of a visit to Myanmar. At the top of his list was a request to talk to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Oct. 4: Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah tweeted that he stated at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on the day that ASEAN members were disappointed as Myanmar authorities had not cooperated with the special envoy, saying “Unless there is progress, it would be difficult to have the Chairman of the SAC at the ASEAN Summit (26-28 Oct 21),” referring to coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. Later at a press conference, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said “the military has not given a positive response to what has been attempted by the special envoy.”

Oct 5: The regime’s spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told Radio Free Asia that the special envoy couldn’t see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as she is now facing several charges.

Oct. 6: Malaysia’s foreign minister issued a warning to Myanmar’s ruling generals that his country is ready to hold talks with Myanmar’s shadow government if the junta continues to fail to cooperate with the ASEAN special envoy.

Oct. 6: The special envoy said that the bloc was “deep in discussions” about not inviting junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to the summit on Oct. 26-28, after the issue was raised by the Malaysian foreign minister and others.

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