Myanmar, multilateralism and the limits of Asean's diplomacy

The harsh reality is that there is no appropriate diplomatic tool that can resolve the situation in Myanmar. Asean should take care not to take on actions that are not in its interests or are beyond its capabilities.

Protesters rallying against the military coup on July 14 in Yangon. The situation in Myanmar today is not the same as Timor Leste two decades ago, and the writer hopes it will not become like Timor Leste. But he says the echoes of Timor Leste, howeve
Protesters rallying against the military coup on July 14 in Yangon. The situation in Myanmar today is not the same as Timor Leste two decades ago, and the writer hopes it will not become like Timor Leste. But he says the echoes of Timor Leste, however faint, should keep us alert to the possibility that others may have agendas that are not in accordance with their eloquent defences of democracy in Myanmar, and Asean should not be either lulled by their praises or goaded by their criticisms, nor mesmerised by our own rhetoric into taking hasty actions we may come to regret.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters rallying against the military coup on July 14 in Yangon. The situation in Myanmar today is not the same as Timor Leste two decades ago, and the writer hopes it will not become like Timor Leste. But he says the echoes of Timor Leste, howeve
Bilahari Kausikan For The Straits Times

In ancient times, many cultures believed that certain words had magical properties; that merely uttering those words could evoke and unleash powerful forces. In our time, in certain circles, the word "Asean" has been invested with something of those magical qualities.

Those who had practised, or are still practising, the craft of diplomacy in South-east Asia, know that the reality is far more prosaic. Asean is just one sub-genre of regional diplomacy and regional organisations like Asean are just one instrument in this generic category of diplomatic tools which we call "multilateralism".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2021, with the headline 'Myanmar, multilateralism and the limits of Asean's diplomacy'. Subscribe