Editorial Notes

Asean sleeping with the enemy: Jakarta Post

The paper says that only if Asean members are united and move in sync, they can put the Myanmar conundrum to an end.

Myanmar armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (right) meeting with Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof (3rd from the left) and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi (2nd from the left) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on June 4,
Myanmar armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (right) meeting with Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof (3rd from the left) and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi (2nd from the left) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on June 4, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have initiated an Asean-led diplomatic initiative to stop the ruthless Myanmar junta from killing innocent people who have refused to accept a government that was born of a coup against a democratic regime.

But Indonesia now faces the bitter fact that resistance to concerted efforts to stop gross human rights violations in Myanmar comes not only come from the military junta but also from within Asean itself.

Brunei's abstention from a recent United Nations General Assembly resolution that strongly condemned the military coup in Myanmar is a crystal-clear demonstration of the Asean rotating chair's reluctance to implement the five-point consensus agreed upon by Asean leaders and Myanmar junta leader Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Jakarta on April 24.

The resolution calls on the Myanmar military junta to restore the country's transition to democracy, condemns its "excessive and lethal violence" since the coup and calls on all countries "to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar".

The resolution also calls on the Myanmar armed forces to immediately and unconditionally release President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials and politicians detained after the coup - "and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested".

Brunei's abstention also explains why its second foreign minister, Erywan Yusof, and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, also a Bruneian, quietly held a meeting with Gen Hlaing in Myanmar in early June.

The episode even amounts to a secretive mission. Mr Yusof was very reluctant to brief fellow Asean foreign ministers before and after his visit to Myanmar.

Even when they gathered in Chonqqing, China, for a special meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yu, both Mr Yusof and Mr Lim initially refused to talk about their Myanmar trip.

They eventually agreed to talk only after general demands were made to do so. In a press statement uploaded on the Asean Secretariat website, Mr Lim referred to Gen Hliang and other figures the general had appointed as "state officials" along with their titles.

The statement was taken down following formal complaints from other Asean members. Asean still recognises Ms Suu Kyi's government as the legitimate government of Myanmar following its victory in the November 2020 election.

In addition to Brunei, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia abstained from the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the coup in Myanmar and calling for an arms embargo.

Asean members Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines supported the resolution, which sought to demonstrate global opposition to junta leader Gen Hlaing, who toppled the democratically elected government of Ms Suu Kyi on Feb 1.

Like in the 1991 film Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Julia Roberts, Indonesia is living unwillingly in a repugnant environment and appears to be cooperating with someone who is not actually trustworthy - a non-adversarial relationship between two entities that would normally be unfriendly or opposed to each other.

No doubt, only if Asean members are united and move in sync, they can put the Myanmar conundrum to an end.

  • The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.