US again touts importance of Myanmar peace plan despite divisions within ASEAN

Statement by top diplomats said many members viewed Thai meeting with junta foreign minister as a positive step.
By Tria Dianti for BenarNews
2023.07.14
Jakarta
US again touts importance of Myanmar peace plan despite divisions within ASEAN (From left) Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn share a light moment during a photo session during the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with the United States in Jakarta, July 14, 2023.
Credit: Alangkara/Pool/via Reuters

Washington on Friday again urged countries to push Myanmar on a peace plan that has failed so far, although the regional bloc is divided over how to handle the Burmese crisis.

Countries must persuade the Burmese military to follow through on the five-point plan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as he met with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other countries in Jakarta on Friday.

“In Myanmar, we must press the military regime to stop the violence, to implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus, to support a return to democratic governance,” Blinken said in a speech during a meeting with ASEAN ministers. 

The bloc, of which Myanmar is a member, has sought to mediate a resolution to the situation in that country, where the military toppled an elected government in February 2021 and threw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in prison. Nearly 3,800 people have been killed in post-coup violence, mostly by junta security forces.  

On Thursday, ASEAN issued a joint statement of its foreign ministers, but that was delayed by a day following a meeting of the region’s top diplomats Tuesday and Wednesday. Reports said the delay arose because they could not agree on what their joint statement would say about Myanmar.

The statement reflected the dissonance. 

Thailand had last month held another meeting with Myanmar’s junta-appointed foreign minister, representatives of ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and India and China. The Burmese and Thai militaries are said to be close, and the outgoing Thai PM is a former army chief.

ASEAN 2023 chair Indonesia did not take kindly to that meeting, which it skipped along with Singapore and Malaysia.

And yet, the joint statement acknowledged that meeting, noting that “a number of ASEAN member states” viewed it “as a positive development.”

The statement went on to note, however, that efforts to solve the Myanmar crisis must support the five-point consensus and efforts by ASEAN chair Indonesia.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai defended the meeting, saying it was in line with an earlier ASEAN document that called for exploring other approaches for resolving the crisis.

In another shocker for the rest of ASEAN, and indeed, everyone else, the Thai foreign minister announced on Wednesday that he had met secretly over the weekend with Myanmar’s imprisoned civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The Thai foreign ministry said that she and the junta had approved the meeting with Don.

And not everyone is on board with the five-point consensus either, although they present a unified front, reports say.

The previous foreign minister of Malaysia, Saifuddin Abdullah, was an exception. He had said last July that it was time to junk the peace plan and devise a new one on a deadline that included enforcement mechanisms

ASEAN operates by consensus, which means any action it takes has to be approved by every member state. Divisions within the bloc have meant that not every member has approved of tougher action against Myanmar.

Therefore, other than shutting out the Burmese junta from all high-level ASEAN meetings for reneging on the consensus, little else has happened since February 2021.

Hunter Marston, a Southeast Asia researcher at the Australian National University, said the ASEAN top diplomats’ joint statement was largely in line with his expectations.

He would have liked to see “ASEAN invite the NUG as a way of imposing costs on the junta, but that won’t receive consensus,” Marston told BenarNews, referring to the National Unity Government, which is the shadow civilian administration.

He would have also liked to see “see a clearer acknowledgement of ASEAN’s frustration with the military junta.”

And the statement “still left room for Thailand’s rogue … diplomacy,” Marston said. 

Another analyst, Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said he had expected a little better from the joint statement.

“[N]ow I only hope that ASEAN does not accept back the junta without accountability,” he told BenarNews.

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