Guest Column

ASEAN United in Inaction, Ineffectiveness and Appeasement on Myanmar

By Igor Blazevic 11 November 2022

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) cannot do anything right. It’s a truly pathetic organization.

ASEAN members like to boast that its consensus style has kept them united. However, what really happens whenever ASEAN is faced with a significant crisis—when tough and resolute decisions need to be made—is that the group’s members remain united in their inaction and inability to do anything meaningful.

Here are the latest updates from what were supposed to be major ASEAN meetings and summits:

The regional bloc has failed to reach a consensus on providing an opportunity to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to deliver a video statement during the ASEAN Summit.

The delivery of the address by Zelenskyy would require the agreement of all ASEAN member countries. Some countries are in favor. Cambodia, ASEAN’s current chair, favors the initiative as well. But some of the 10 members oppose the address—so nothing will happen. There will be no Zelenskyy speech. ASEAN again remains united in its inability to take meaningful and necessary action.

When it comes to Myanmar, the bloc’s performance is simultaneously even more comical and tragic.

At first, Southeast Asian foreign ministers agreed that ASEAN’s efforts to bring peace to Myanmar through its Five-Point Consensus had failed. Next, they decided to recommend that ASEAN leaders stick to the plan. The message: Our strategy and approach have failed, so we recommend continuing with it.

In order to bring at least some new element or to pretend to put some new ingredient in the ASEAN policy toward the war in Myanmar, the foreign ministers called for “concrete, practical, and time-bound actions” to strengthen the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

However, again, the original two-page ASEAN Chair’s Statement that resulted from the foreign ministers meeting on Oct. 27 has subsequently been removed from the ASEAN website and replaced with a much shorter, three-paragraph text. The revised statement no longer makes reference to “concrete, practical and time-bound actions” to strengthen implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

The new version of the Chair’s Statement has been reduced to a vague statement that effectively says: “We have nothing concrete to say, we do not really plan to do anything meaningful and concrete which can actually contribute to solve the problem. We had a frank and friendly exchange of views, we learned that we do not have agreement among ourselves on what to do, so we have reached a consensus that we will remain united in doing nothing.”

A newly leaked document prepared by the office of the ASEAN chair—Cambodia—has added new clarity to the policy of “ASEAN Unity in Inaction and Ineffectiveness”. In the 11-point document made public by Fortify Rights, point No. 2 clarifies that ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus shall be retained” and that the ASEAN Secretariat will be tasked “to draft the implementation plan.”

So, ASEAN’s secretariat will now spend probably six or eight more months developing plans on how to implement a policy that has already been a failure for a year-and-a-half. A truly astounding approach to effective policy making and policy implementation.

Point No. 8 in the document is much more interesting. It calls for a “strategic reverse implementation approach,” in order to “try to find converging points between the two separate parallel tracks of the 5-Point Consensus and 5-Point Roadmap.”

What does that mean?

The Five-Point Consensus is a failed ASEAN policy to deal with the ongoing and escalating war and deepening political and humanitarian crises in Myanmar.

The Five-Point Roadmap is the Myanmar terrorist military junta’s plan to stage completely manipulated and completely unfree elections on the part of Myanmar’s territory that it currently controls (less than 50 percent of the country) in order to try to legitimize its failed power grab.

So what ASEAN is cooking up in its internal—and leaked—plan is a “convergence” of its completely failed Five-Point policy with the junta’s plan for legitimizing its failed power grab.

One failed plan will converge with another failed plan to achieve what?

There is only one response to this question: It will produce an even bigger failure, ensuring that Myanmar continues to face mass atrocities, destruction, escalation of the conflict, economic meltdown, and a humanitarian emergency on a mass scale.

Igor Blazevic is senior adviser with the Prague Civil Society Centre. Between 2011 and 2016 he worked in Myanmar as the head lecturer at the Educational Initiatives Program.

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