ASEAN and Myanmar’s Generals—in Cartoons

By The Irrawaddy 23 April 2021

Myanmar with the generals in power has always been a headache for ASEAN, the Southeast Asian regional grouping of which the country has been a member since 1997. Now with a fresh coup in February and the subsequent slaughter of more than 700 people, the country is once again a thorn in the bloc’s side.

With migrants spilling into neighboring countries, ethnic conflicts flaring and a thriving drug trade in border areas, among other problems, the political instability in the country poses a threat to the region’s peace and prosperity. Myanmar’s domestic chaos also raises concerns for the West, due to the country’s strategic location between China and India.

However, history shows that the member nations of the 10-country bloc rarely make headway when it comes to seeking solutions for Myanmar. At times, they played along with the previous junta’s games, even as the EU and the UN were pursuing various approaches to put pressure on the regime over its suppression of human rights and political freedoms. Shielded by the bloc’s “non-interference policy,” they stayed mute, concerned only for their vested interests in the rogue nation. Unsurprisingly, no one in Myanmar—other than the generals—had any trust in ASEAN.

On Saturday, the bloc will hold an emergency summit in Jakarta on how to deal with the deteriorating situation in Myanmar and its repercussions for the region and beyond. Initiated by Indonesia, it will be the first time in ASEAN’s 54-year history that a meeting has been held at the highest level to address principally a situation of concern in a fellow member state. We will have to wait and see how the bloc conducts itself this time.

On the eve of the meeting, The Irrawaddy revisits some of its editorial cartoons published in the early 2000s on relations between ASEAN and Myanmar’s generals.

Problem Child
Myanmar gained admittance to ASEAN in 1997, and since that time it has been an embarrassment to other member nations, particularly in their relations with the West.


“Aung San Suu Kyi Must Be Relea *#%**”
UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari called for Myanmar opposition leader’s release from house arrest during a conference in Cambodia in November 2007. Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein was not amused.


“Are You All Listening?”
US officials have consistently urged harsh actions against Myanmar’s ruling regime. Despite their efforts, regional neighbors have continued to supply much-needed support to the isolated regime through a variety of economic and military trade agreements.


All Talk, No Action
While officials from ASEAN bickered about the consequences of Burma’s accession to the rotating chairmanship of the multi-nation bloc, Burma’s military rulers quietly assumed that their right was beyond dispute.


“With Friends Like You…”
Myanmar came under mounting pressure in early 2005 over their upcoming rotational chairmanship of ASEAN. While officials from the regional bloc encouraged the rogue nation to accept the post, international bodies as such the EU grew increasingly nervous about the implications of their acceptance.


“Whose Throw?”
As nations and international bodies—from the EU to the UN—pursue various approaches to the Myanmar junta’s continued suppression of human rights and political freedom, the 10-nation bloc ASEAN stands out as the only organization playing along with the junta’s game.

Cartoons by Harn Lay

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