Singapore FM Admits ASEAN ‘Not as Effective as Hoped’ on Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 20 August 2021

Five months after its announcement in April of a five-point consensus on resolving the crisis in Myanmar, regional grouping ASEAN finally appointed Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs Erywan Yusof as special envoy to the country early this month. But with Yusof yet to make his first visit to Naypyitaw as envoy, some ASEAN members are expressing frustration.

“[ASEAN is] not as effective or as quick as we would have hoped for. But this is a difficult situation,” Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Reuters.

Balakrishnan said he hoped there would be progress to report on the envoy’s visit before the ASEAN leaders’ summit in November. But he cautioned that if the visit was to be meaningful, the military would have to grant the envoy access to all stakeholders.

“The key litmus test now will be how they engage with our special envoy,” Balakrishnan said.

Describing the situation as “dire”, Balakrishnan said ASEAN was trying to be constructive by facilitating dialogue and delivering humanitarian assistance.

“We have maintained lines of communication,” Balakrishnan said, when asked whether ASEAN or Singapore had engaged with the shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

“We’re not trying to make things difficult. And we’re not playing sides. But [the Myanmar military authorities] know we will engage everyone.”

Singapore is one of the largest foreign investors in Myanmar after China, with US$24.1 billion worth of investments approved there as of 2020.

Last month, Balakrishnan called the situation in Myanmar a “perfect storm”. “The violence unfortunately has not stopped. There has been no release of the political detainees,” he said.

“There has been no dialogue going on between… all the stakeholders in Myanmar. And on top of the political turmoil, the economic standstill. Then to make things worse, the very dire COVID-19 situation.”

He added: “The political turmoil contributes to the humanitarian disaster which is unfolding now and there is a need for us to extend assistance to the maximum extent that we can to the people of Myanmar.”

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing this month pledged to hold an election by 2023.

Past Myanmar regimes denied visas to several UN-appointed special envoys to Myanmar. Currently the UN has two Myanmar envoys: Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener and UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews. Both have been denied visas to enter the country.

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