JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - To restore the credibility of Asean, which has been damaged by Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi's visit to Myanmar on behalf of the regional bloc last week, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo should waste no time in discussing the matter with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the chair of Asean for this year.
The sultan, who also serves as the country's prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and finance minister, needs to correct the serious mistakes his two top diplomats have committed.
The most fatal blunder was a press release uploaded on the official website of the Asean Secretariat following the June 4 to 5 visit. In the statement, which was later removed, Lim mentioned the assumed titles of Myanmar junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and others who were present at the meeting.
It was an open recognition of the junta, while Asean only acknowledges Gen. Hliang as the commander in chief of Myanmar's military. Asean maintains its recognition of the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, even after Gen. Hliang seized power in a coup on Feb 1.
Yusof had already breached the norm as he, along with Lim, went to Myanmar and met with Gen. Hlaing without prior notification to and returned home without briefing fellow Asean foreign ministers. Even during the Asean-China foreign ministerial meeting in Chongqing, China, on Monday (June 7), Yusof was reluctant to share the outcome of his Myanmar mission.
The priority for resolving this diplomatic gaffe is for Asean to announce its special envoy to Myanmar as agreed upon by the Asean leaders and Gen. Hlaing in a special summit at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta on April 24. Brunei's sultan, as the Asean chair, has been entrusted to pick the envoy, but the selection process has been very slow.
Indonesia has nominated former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda, but realizing that the Myanmar military feels more comfortable with Thailand, Asean foreign ministers have informally agreed that Hassan will be accompanied by a Thai official.
Myanmar must accept the candidate or candidates as part of the April 24 consensus, because further negotiation would allow the junta to buy time and would render the five-point agreement unimplemented.
It is hard to deny the impression that the Myanmar military has dictated the special envoy candidacy to Asean, as reflected in a press statement issued by the junta after the meeting with the two Bruneian envoys.
Brunei's sultan is known for his strong commitment to the unity and cohesion of Asean, and therefore, he will be very willing to continue the regional effort to restore democracy and justice in Myanmar.
Although it seemed that the sultan was initially reluctant to cohost the Asean special summit in Jakarta with President Jokowi, his attendance and strong leadership was instrumental in the success of the meeting, which resulted in the five-point consensus with Gen. Hlaing.
The Myanmar junta has so far failed to convince Asean of its commitment to the consensus. The longer the defiance lasts, the more Asean humiliates itself and the more severe the plight of Myanmar's people. President Jokowi, as the de facto leader of Asean, and other Asean leaders, should take firm action to quickly end the Myanmar conundrum.
- The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.