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Myanmar – a thorn in the ASEAN rose January 17, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, Government, Politics, Southeast Asia.
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ASEAN, which stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been coming up with new initiatives and moves not only to adapt itself to a globalizing world but to create a better future for the region is once again bogged down by the inefficiency of its most troubled member, Myanmar.

Ever since the military junta came to power in 1962 and denied its citizens basic democratic values enjoyed by its Southern neighbors, such as the continuous detention of Aung San Suu Kyi for the past 2 decades and rampant human rights violations, it has been under the international spotlight of NGOs and Western governments who have slapped it with all kinds of economic and political sanctions.

Unfortunately, the sanctions have done little to destabilize the junta or cause it to shift course even though it did come up with a so-called “road map” for democracy – a plan denounced by the UN and Western nations as a sham. Paranoia and fearful of an attack by the West are what some believes to have led the regime to move its capital administration from coastal Yangon to inland Pyinmana that began from the end of 2005.

A new member of ASEAN, Myanmar only joined in 1997 and as such is less familiar with the values and aspirations of the group. Despite apprehension from certain quarters, Malaysia’s former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was thought to have played an instrumental role in Myanmar’s accession. Reasons for bringing Myanmar in ranges from using the grouping to resolve some of the conflicts between Myanmar and neighboring countries like Thailand, and socializing the reclusive state through constructive engagement, to preventing it from falling into the Chinese sphere of influence.

 10 years down the road, ASEAN has not been able to make any successful headway as the country has remained a stubborn thorn stuck deep in ASEAN’s heart. This has prompted Dr Mahathir to recently express his dissatisfaction and regret for incorporating Myanmar. A little too late for that. The question then becomes what to do with Myanmar to avoid it from dragging the feet of other members who are eager to move forward and plunging the organization into international disgrace.

One way is to expel it from the group but how to go about doing this is less clear since there are no clear rules on punishing a member for non-compliance. This could change eventually should the ASEAN Charter be adopted and rules of engagement become binding.

In the meantime, ASEAN would have no choice but to take responsibility in resolving the Myanmar problem now that China and Russia have vetoed a Washington-backed UNSC resolution “calling on the regime to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups” (The Japan Times, January 15, 2007) 

Part of the reasoning for China and Russia to veto is that human rights problem in Myanmar has not been a threat to regional/international security and thus do not justify Security Council action. Another part of the reason, some believes to be more apparent, is the closeness between China and Myanmar and the importance of Myanmar’s untapped natural resources to China’s booming economy.

While Myanmar celebrates in victory, the other ASEAN members weren’t pleased with the result as most of them saw the resolution as the best way to put pressure on Myanmar in ways that the grouping has not been able to do. Resigned to that fact, the agreement to take responsibility for Myanmar was only then added into the statement of the group’s annual summit in Cebu, Philippines.

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