Myanmar’s Crisis & the World

Indonesia ‘Working Behind the Scenes’ for Myanmar Peace

By The Irrawaddy 16 March 2023

Indonesia is in talks with various parties in Myanmar, but resolving the conflict that has overwhelmed the country since the 2021 coup will take time, said Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Indonesia is this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.

The 10-member regional bloc reached consensus on a five-point peace plan in April 2021 intended to halt Myanmar’s slide into civil war. More than two years and several thousand deaths later, the regime continues to ignore the plan and its core demand for cessation of violence.

Widodo told the Strait Times on Wednesday that as ASEAN chair, Indonesia will do its best to improve the situation in Myanmar despite the “complicated” crisis.

Myanmar junta troops recently escalated their offensive in the country’s anti-regime strongholds, committing mass killings, beheadings and indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians and resistance forces on a daily basis.

Widodo told The Straits Times that the priority for Indonesia and ASEAN is to implement the point in the peace plan calling for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar.

“We have been working on this. It is just that a lot of the work is behind the scenes, but there is some work that is going on,” Widodo said.

The president’s remark suggests the regional bloc is implementing the agreement it reached at last year’s summit to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar. The agreement came after the bloc was accused of being toothless in its efforts to curb junta violence, which has killed more than 3,100 opponents of military rule. ASEAN was pressed to reach out to the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), which commands the loyalty of the vast majority of Myanmar people.

Widodo has already announced his intention to send a high-ranking general to Naypyitaw to share Indonesia’s experience of democratic transition, with Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Economic Affairs Luhut Panjaitan tipped as a potential candidate.

In January, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi announced plans to set up a Special Envoy’s Office to coordinate ASEAN’s handling of the Myanmar crisis. She also reaffirmed the commitment to engage with all stakeholders, including forces opposed to the junta.

However, ASEAN remains deeply divided over Myanmar.

During a visit to Thailand in February, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim suggested that the bloc “carve Myanmar out” for now, seemingly proposing suspension of the country from regional affairs. However, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister later clarified that Anwar meant Myanmar should not be allowed to distract the rest of ASEAN from pursuing stronger collaboration for regional community-building.

Anwar told the press: “Constructive engagement, or the ‘ASEAN way’, needs to be revised when it comes to Myanmar because it doesn’t seem to be working.”

In December, Thailand drove a wedge in ASEAN by hosting an “informal regional meeting” in Bangkok to discuss the crisis in its western neighbor. The meeting was attended by three Myanmar junta cabinet ministers and representatives from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Bangkok followed up this week with another meeting on Myanmar, this time joined by representatives from Laos, China, India, Bangladesh and the junta.

Myanmar was also high on the agenda when China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Marsudi for talks in Jakarta last month.

“As ASEAN chair, Indonesia will embark on engagements with all stakeholders in Myanmar, with the one goal of opening up a possibility of an inclusive national dialogue,” Marsudi said after the meeting, adding that Indonesia appreciates China’s support for the process.

China, Myanmar’s largest neighbor with strategic projects in the country, has been supportive of ASEAN’s efforts to resolve the crisis and has recently upped its own engagement with Myanmar.

In late February, Beijing sent its special envoy Deng Xijun to Myanmar to hold a second round of talks with the regime and also with ethnic armed forces in northern Myanmar since his appointment late last year.

The envoy met with junta leader Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw. Junta media reported the two discussed the role of China in border security and internal peace in Myanmar.