ASEAN Summit on Myanmar Should Include NUG, Not Legitimize Junta

By The Irrawaddy 20 April 2021

ASEAN will hold its summit on Myanmar in Jakarta on April 24 amid concerns that the gathering will lend legitimacy to the junta, which has been murdering its own people daily since grabbing power from the country’s elected government on Feb. 1.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has confirmed his attendance at the summit. If he does make an appearance, he must be condemned and held accountable by ASEAN members. Why? Since joining the regional grouping in 1997 Myanmar has been its problem child and its weakest link.

If at the last minute Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing becomes too afraid to face the music, he will likely join the summit via teleconference from Myanmar. If he does that, he will show that he is not only a criminal, but also a coward.

The illegitimate coup and the slaughter it has unleashed in Myanmar have only diminished ASEAN’s standing in the world and exposed its utter lack of credibility in tackling such crises.

On the one hand, the coup and the regional reaction to it have highlighted the fact that a substantial portion of ASEAN’s members are ruled by authoritarian governments; predictably, these countries have refused to condemn the regime in Myanmar.

Having said that, Indonesia and Singapore have voiced an unusual degree of concern by ASEAN standards, and are taking an active role in seeking a resolution.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called for leaders across Asia to increase their efforts at finding a peaceful solution to the bloody crisis in Myanmar.

Speaking during a Security Council meeting on cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations, he highlighted the relationship with ASEAN, underlining the bloc’s important role in diplomacy, conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

“Today, ASEAN’s role is more crucial than ever as the region faces an urgent crisis in Myanmar”, Guterres said. “I have repeatedly called on the international community to work, collectively and through bilateral channels, to help bring an end to the violence and the repression by the military.”

“I urge regional actors to leverage their influence to prevent further deterioration and, ultimately, find a peaceful way out of this catastrophe.”

Reiterating the line Beijing has taken since the coup, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the council Monday that it should look to ASEAN to lead the way on Myanmar.

“Supporting ASEAN’s constructive participation in Myanmar’s domestic reconciliation process in an ASEAN way and de-escalating tension in Myanmar serves the interests of the people of Myanmar and the international community,” he said.

China and Russia have blocked efforts to take action against the Myanmar regime, or even to condemn the coup, through the UN Security Council. This has prompted a wave of anti-China protests in Myanmar and a boycott of Chinese goods.

Controversial invitation 

There was initially some debate over whether representatives of the regime should be invited to the summit, given the amount of blood that is already on their hands. Opponents questioned the value of giving a murderer a seat at the table. However, if ASEAN members—particularly Indonesia and Singapore, along with Malaysia—plan to use the occasion to roast the senior general and demand an immediate solution to the Myanmar crisis, it is worth inviting him. ASEAN needs to find a way to talk to him without lending him or his murderous junta a hint of legitimacy.

Last week, lawmakers from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, activists and some ethnic leaders including ministers of the ousted government formally announced the establishment of a National Unity Government (NUG) aimed at bringing together opponents of military rule to hasten the restoration of democracy. The NUG called for international support and recognition. Under the NUG, detained President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi retain their positions.

U Moe Zaw Oo, the NUG’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, said ASEAN had yet to reach out to the new government. Ethnic minority politicians have not been contacted either.

“If ASEAN wants to help solve the Myanmar situation, they are not going to achieve anything without consulting and negotiating with the NUG, which is supported by the people and has full legitimacy,” he told Voice of America’s Burmese service.

“It’s important that this military council is not recognized. This needs to be handled carefully,” he said.

Some members of Myanmar’s National Unity Government

Former US ambassador to Myanmar Scott Marciel agreed that ASEAN needs to be clear that it is not recognizing the junta of member-state Myanmar and must talk with the NUG.

“ASEAN’s agreement to let Min Aung Hlaing represent Myanmar at the upcoming summit raises the stakes for the bloc,” Marciel said via Twitter over the weekend.

“To avoid major damage to its standing, ASEAN needs to consult with the NUG and come out of the summit with tangible actions to show it is not accepting the junta.”

According to Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, the only appropriate place for Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is behind bars.

“General Min Aung Hlaing is responsible for crimes against humanity and belongs in handcuffs. He should be arrested under universal jurisdiction if he leaves Myanmar,” Adams tweeted over the weekend.

There is doubtless nothing the oppressed people of Myanmar—particularly the parents of the children who have been killed by the junta’s forces since the coup—would welcome more than the sight of the coup leader handcuffed and sentenced to a lengthy jail term. In reality, that is not likely to happen, however.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an international political expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), told BenarNews, “Of course [Daw Aung San] Suu Kyi’s camp needs to participate in the meeting.”

“The presence of the military junta at the ASEAN summit will definitely complicate consensus. However, without the presence of the junta, ASEAN’s efforts to find a solution to the Myanmar conflict will not be successful.”

Dewi said ASEAN should press the junta to end its violence and open up access to humanitarian assistance from the international community.

“An inclusive dialog process must involve all major components of Myanmar society to restore political stability, security and democracy in Myanmar,” she said.

It is important that NUG representatives be invited to the summit to hear their concerns and vision for Myanmar’s future.

There are fears that the current Myanmar regime will, like its predecessors, receive diplomatic cover from ASEAN and use it as a shield. This must not be allowed to happen. Still, some see the presence of Myanmar’s military leader at the summit as a necessity if any progress is to result.

“If ASEAN wants to push for an immediate end to violence, open access to humanitarian aid, then the most appropriate thing is to talk directly to the military. I think this is a very important opportunity,” Teuku Rezasyah, a lecturer in international relations at Padjajaran University Bandung in Indonesia told BenarNews.

Whatever truth there is in that position, it’s equally clear that the presence at the summit of regime officials alone won’t suffice; Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in no way represents the people of Myanmar. It is imperative that ASEAN invite elected representatives to the summit. That would go some way toward persuading the international community and Myanmar’s people of the bloc’s credibility as an actor in resolving the crisis.

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