ASEAN Dusts Off Non-Interference Policy as Generals Grab Power in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 1 February 2021

In the hours following the announcement of Monday’s coup in Myanmar, world leaders issued a stream of denunciations of the military takeover and called for the release of those detained by the military, including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, chief ministers and others.

Last Friday, the US, alongside several other Western nations, urged the military to “adhere to democratic norms” in a statement following the commander-in-chief’s threat to revoke the 2008 military-backed Constitution.

Regionally, some members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, which includes Myanmar, have issued individual responses to the coup.

Singapore and Malaysia raised concerns over the takeover and urged dialogue between the military and the National League for Democracy. Indonesia similarly urged restraint on all sides and called for dialogue.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon – who came to power in a 2014 military coup – said the military takeover was Myanmar’s “internal affair.” Cambodia echoed that view, as did the Philippines.

It is not yet known what official stance will be taken by ASEAN — which upholds a non-interference policy among members — but Brunei’s foreign ministry was cited by Channel News Asia as saying, “Brunei Darussalam, as Chair of ASEAN, is consulting other ASEAN member states on their support for an ASEAN statement.”

Here are the reactions of some other countries:

United States

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “The United States is alarmed” by the reports of arrests and “opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”

Newly appointed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called on Myanmar’s military “to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on Nov. 8.”

UN Secretary General

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antony Guterres said in a statement that the UN “strongly condemns” the detention of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other political leaders hours before of the opening session of Myanmar’s new Parliament.

The secretary general expressed his grave concern regarding the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military, the spokesperson said.

“These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar,” the statement reads.

It said the Nov. 8 election provided a strong mandate to the National League for Democracy (NLD), reflecting the clear will of the people of Myanmar to continue on the hard-won path of democratic reform.

The UN urged the military to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms, with any differences to be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

The military-led National Defense and Security Council convened on Monday, following the announcement of the coup earlier in the day. / Tatmadaw Information Team

European Union 

The Vice-President of the European Union, Josep Borrell, said the EU condemned

the coup by the Tatmadaw. He said the move is a clear violation of the country’s Constitution and an attempt by the military to overturn the will of the Myanmar people and their strong attachment to democracy, as expressed in the November 2020 general election.

He pressed for the immediate release of President U Win Myint, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and all others who have been arrested.

Borrell said the EU also calls for the immediate restoration of the legitimate civilian government in Myanmar, and the swift opening of Parliament with the participation of all elected representatives, as foreseen by the Constitution.


The Australian government said on Monday it was “deeply concerned” over the military coup in Myanmar and called for the release of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials who were detained shortly before the early-morning takeover.

“We strongly support the peaceful reconvening of the National Assembly, consistent with the results of the November 2020 general election,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.


The Indian government expressed “deep concern” over Monday’s military coup in Myanmar and voiced support for the process of democratic transition in the country. “We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.


Singapore’s Foreign Ministry expressed “grave concern” over the military coup in Myanmar.

It said Singapore is monitoring the situation closely and hopes all parties involved will exercise restraint, maintain dialogue, and work towards a positive and peaceful outcome.

“We hope that the situation will return to normal as soon as possible,” the Foreign Ministry said.


In a statement, Malaysia called on the Myanmar military and all relevant parties to give the utmost priority to the maintenance of peace and security in the country, uphold the rule of law, and resolve any electoral discrepancies through established legal mechanisms and dialogue in a peaceful manner.

“Malaysia supports the continuation of discussions among Myanmar’s leaders to avoid adverse consequences to the people and state of Myanmar, especially during the current and difficult COVID-19 pandemic situation,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s office spokesman Harry Roque said during a press briefing on Monday that “We expect that at the soonest possible time things will go back to normal, though the situation in Myanmar is an internal matter we won’t interfere with.”


Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it is concerned over the political situation in Myanmar, and urged self-restraint and dialogue in order to find solutions and avoid exacerbating conditions.

The ministry’s statement reads: “Indonesia calls for the observance of the principles of the ASEAN Charter, among other things, adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government.”

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attends the virtual signing ceremony for the RCEP trade deal in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, in November 2020. / MIFER


The Japanese Foreign Minister called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained in Myanmar.

Toshimitsu Motegi said “The Japanese government has up to now strongly supported the democratic process in Myanmar, and opposes any reversal of that process.”

He said that “we strongly call on the military government to restore democracy as soon as possible.”

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter: “I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar.”

“The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released,” Johnson said.

Germany (in translation by Twitter) 

Germany strongly condemned the seizure of power and the arrest of civilian leaders.

Germany’s foreign minister said, “The military actions jeopardize the progress made so far towards democratic change in Myanmar.”

New Zealand

New Zealand said it is “deeply troubled” by the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar and called for the immediate release of detainees.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said that an election had taken place and that the democractic will of the people must be respected.

New Zealand also called for the swift release of all of those detained, and urged any issues to be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

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