Myanmar Is Weighing ASEAN Down

Thus, the suggestion of suspending Myanmar from the membership of ASEAN, even if temporarily, should be given the utmost consideration …

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Published in AstroAwani, Malaysiakini, MYsinchew, NewStraitsTimes, & TheStraitsTimes, image by AstroAwani.

Whether one likes to call it Myanmar or Burma, both expressions currently point to a failed state. With more than 52 million people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds forced to comply with every dictate of the military junta of Senior General Myin Aung Hlaing, it is no wonder that the people have risen up against him and the Tatmadaw or military.

The cause of the junta began with the personal ambition of Senior General Mihn Aung Hlaing to be the President of Myanmar prior to his mandatory retirement in May 2021.

Yet deprived of the chance to have the approval of the then State Councilor or leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD), Senior General Mihn Aung Hlaing felt completely slighted. The fact that the NLD has romped home to a major electoral factory in November 2020, this despite a pandemic that was fast unfolding all across the world, not just Myanmar, made for an enen more humiliating slap on the proverbial face of the Senior General himself.

But things perhaps would not have come to a boil had Aung San Suu Kyi intentionally not set out to deny any opportunity to have a face to face dialogue between the “Lady” and the “Senior General”.

The meeting that never occurred, to allow Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to explain to Aung San Suu Kyi that the Tatmadaw not only wanted the Presidency but full control of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Borders and the Ministry of Public Security, further destroyed any chances of a peaceful dialogue both before and after the coup of February 1, 2021, which the world has roundly condemned except a bare few such as North Korea and Cuba.

Come what may, the internal insurrection in Myanmar has now become a full blown civil war, wracking up some 14,000 fatalities to date over the last 2 years. These are people who had been mostly killed by the Tatmadaw, although ethnic groups and tribes, have allowed the worst features of themselves to go on an inter ethnic rampage too, all of which have been clearly catalogued by the United Nations (UN) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

What makes Myanmar an albatross over the neck of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the negative impression that it has given to ASEAN and ASEAN Way, which Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia duly noted when he was in Thailand for a two day visit during February 10 and February 11, 2023.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim affirmed that while it is true that ASEAN does its utmost to practise non-intervention, matters within Myanmar have reached its zenith. First and foremost, the 2401 KM border between Thailand and Myanmar are not on a permanent state of alert; as is the 2400 KM between Myanmar and China, the Comprehensive Strategic Partner (CSP) of ASEAN.

The Myanmar’s border with Laos and Bangladesh are another massive headahce where the latter the Cox’s Bazaar with close to 700,000 people have become a humanitarian redoubt with the lowest quality of life possible.

Secondly,  the inability of the Tatmadaw to work with the NLD and up to 24 ethnic groups from a total of 55 of them have spawned serious problems of racial discrimination resulting in genocidal warfare against the Rohingya Muslims in particular.

At any given time, there are 200,000 Rohingya Muslims in Malaysia with another 5 million employed with low skill sets also originating from Bangladesh and Myanmar. These are problems that the likes of Malaysia, Thailand and else where that border Myanmar have had to deal with.

Thirdly, wracked by a Myanmar that is in total disarray, this has brought about the unavoidable odium to the name of ASEAN.

Instead of being seen as a regional organization that is firmly principled in guiding ASEAN —- in fact widely touted as the second most successful regional organization after the European Union (EU) —- ASEAN is now mired with endless problems.

Thus, the suggestion of suspending Myanmar from the membership of ASEAN, even if temporarily, should be given the utmost consideration; without which ASEAN would lose its strategic anchor and diplomatic culture, especially when Jakarta is the chair of ASEAN.

Rais Hussin is the President and Chief Executive Officer of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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