Originally published on Mohinga Matters
Another April has passed since 2021, and that means another Myanmar New Year that people refuse to celebrate in protest of the military coup. However, protesting the new year is not the only remarkable event since 2021, the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus also turned two years old on April 24, 2023. Three ASEAN Chairmanships have turned over since its leaders reached consensus on following these goals:
1. Cessation of violence
2. Holding constructive dialogue among all parties
3. Appointing a special envoy of ASEAN Chair
4. Providing humanitarian assistance
5. Special envoy to visit Myanmar and meet with all parties concerned.
Currently Indonesia sits in the ASEAN hot seat and on the issue where its successors failed. In a way it is obvious that the Five-Point Consensus has been doomed to fail since its inception. Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing never showed any interest in taking action. After using the ASEAN Leaders’ meeting (the only time he was invited and persuaded against violence) as a photo opportunity, he immediately reneged from the consensus upon landing back in Naypyidaw, and claims he is going to pursue his “own five-point plan”, which was later demonstrated as pursuing the cessation of violence by ensuring no resistance remained, and holding dialogue among all parties as long as they submit to his authority, etc.
However, not all failures of the Five-Point Consensus could be attributed to Min Aung Hlaing alone. The ASEAN, by not doing what they can, was also accountable for failure of the consensus. Most obviously, the 10-member bloc, from its part, has consistently failed to meet with “all parties concerned”, despite it being enshrined in the consensus. The ugliest episodes of the ASEAN role was witnessed throughout Cambodia’s chairmanship. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen spent first half of his time blaming democratic forces and the second half resigned to the fact that he could not do anything. Min Aung Hlaing, emboldened by Hun Sen’s act of bestowing legitimacy on him, intensified his terror campaigns (even during Hun Sen’s visit to Naypyidaw) while giving no concrete concession in turn. Compared to Hun Sen’s time, Indonesia, being a better performing democracy (at least by the ASEAN standards) and being a vocal critic of Min Aung Hlaing, is now in a position to change that, and we genuinely hope Indonesia will engage with the National Unity Government (NUG), the most visible stakeholder to seek solutions in Myanmar. As a popular quote accredited to Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” The previous ASEAN chairs have done insane moves over past two years. The time is long overdue to make something different than engaging with military alone.
Aside where Cambodia and Indonesia stand on the autocracy-democracy spectrum, there is also a practical need towards alleviating the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. Two years ago, when ASEAN leaders agreed the generally written and not time-bound commitments, Min Aung Hlaing seemed to be in charge because most of the resistance were unarmed protestors easily gunned down. Since then, with the escalation of violence from military side (as opposed to Point 1), the resistance has morphed into armed rebellion. Civilian death has no sign of slowing down. Even the internationally condemned incidents such as Pa Zi Gyi Massacre were followed up by another air-and-ground-strikes against the same village, and this is just the latest example of its lack of commitment to a cessation of violence. However, for all the increased death, poverty and suffering, the military still does not have any control. By its own admission, it doesn’t even control two-thirds of the country.
The result is that, compared to two years ago, we are getting closer to a being failed state, and being a failed state would create shockwaves across the region, from the exodus of refugees to being a haven for criminals. Ideology and humanitarian aspects aside, the ASEAN and neighboring powers (i.e. China and India) have increasing pragmatic stakes to promote stability in Myanmar now.
For diplomatic solutions, it is understandable that why engagement with the military is important. However, it is the lack of formal engagement with the NUG, despite its support from the people of Myanmar, that would fail to achieve progress.
Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly proven that he is not willing to commit to the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus. If there were any doubts that not antagonizing Min Aung Hlaing by not formally engaging with the NUG could persuade him to take any reforms, the past two years is more than enough to dispel such disillusions. The time for benefits of doubts and excuses is over, now is the time for ASEAN to show its willingness in doing what’s described in the consensus or risk a failed state in its own backyard.
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