ST Asia Future Summit

Myanmar’s junta must be part of Asean dialogue, says Indonesia’s former foreign minister

Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa speaking with ST Foreign Editor Bhagyashree Garekar at the ST Asia Future Summit at Raffles City Convention Centre on Nov 1, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Myanmar’s generals should be excluded from high-level meetings like the Asean Summit, but when a special meeting was chaired to discuss the Myanmar crisis last week, the junta should have been in the room, said Indonesia’s former foreign minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa.

Dr Marty, 59, a long-time diplomat, told the audience at The Straits Times’ inaugural Asia Future Summit on Tuesday that Asean should have secured the junta’s presence when such a standalone meeting on the Myanmar crisis was convened.

The junta has been barred from attending high-level Asean meetings, including last week’s meeting among the bloc’s foreign ministers at the secretariat in Jakarta, after a coup in February 2021 plunged Myanmar into chaos. Elected leaders, including Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, were jailed, and more than 7,000 civilians have been killed.

“I find it incredulous and difficult to see how a solution to this problem can be found without the party concerned,” Dr Marty said.

When ST foreign editor Bhagyashree Garekar, the session moderator, asked how Dr Marty could convince Myanmar that it’s useful to engage with Asean, he said Asean must make clear to the generals that “if they don’t turn up, it won’t be cost-free”, as Asean will continue to “publicly and deliberately” engage leaders in the National Unity Government, as well as others in the resistance movement, in their absence.

Dr Marty, the author of Does Asean Matter? A View From Within, also said Asean leaders should not depend on just one special envoy.

“At the moment, I feel Asean is overly contracting out the burden of managing Myanmar to one special envoy,” he said. “This can’t be contracted out to one person.”

Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has been Asean’s special envoy for Myanmar since December.

Dr Marty also pointed out that Asean will have three good opportunities to change the dynamics and influence developments in November, with the US-Asean and East Asia Summits, the Group of 20 Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit held in Phnom Penh, Bali, and Bangkok respectively. United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have confirmed their attendance at some of these summits.

This is a good chance for Asean to make an impact in promoting strategic stability as all eyes will be on the Asean hosts, said Dr Marty. “And I think we must be more ambitious than simply being the efficient host, or an event organiser. We have to be impactful.”

In response to questions on whether Asean is still relevant, he said: “Obituaries on Asean have been written many times over already but somehow we managed to emerge stronger.”

But he said there is “a sense of drift” at the moment, adding: “Personally, I wish the leaders of Asean can be seen to be a little bit more engaged, and take ownership of these issues.

“These are not normal times. These are times that require leadership.”

OCBC Bank is the premier sponsor of the event.

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