Indonesian FM in Burma: discussions on democratization and the ASEAN chair

Updated On: Dec 29, 2011

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is the latest in a string of high profile international visitors to visit Myanmar for talks with the country’s representatives and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Indonesia intends to strengthen economic relations with Myanmar, and has pledged its support for the country’s continued democratization. However, some parties remain unconvinced that Myanmar will be ready to become ASEAN chair in 2014, despite its recent heartening trend towards reform.

Foreign Minister Natalegawa spoke with his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin and pro-democracy figure Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Wednesday.  Natalegawa and Lwin’s meeting took place in the second forum of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). Later that day Natalegawa supposedly spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi to give her updates, and to share Indonesia’s commitment to supporting Myanmar’s continued reforms.

Economic and democratic relations between Indonesia and Myanmar

Mr Natalegawa claims his country is Myanmar’s foremost partner in its process of democratization. In the past, the international community has lauded Indonesia for its transformation from an authoritarian state to a democratic one, following the fall of President Soeharto in 1998.

Natalegawa praised the government’s release of some political prisoners, and the opening of dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups. Djumara Supriyadi of the Indonesian Embassy in Rangoon says the Indonesian government believes Myanmar is well on its way to achieving good governance, true democratization, and human rights.

In Natalegawa’s words, there is now less of a “democratic deficit” in Myanmar. Following a meeting with Ms Suu Kyi, he cautioned that more work still needed to be done.

The talks between the foreign ministers have also resulted in an agreement to strengthen bilateral cooperation, and to pursue increasing trade between the two countries. Trade between Indonesia and Myanmar reached $300 milion this year. By 2015, it is hoped that trade volume between the two countries will reach US$500 million, via the promotion of direct investment in areas like infrastructure, tourism, and cooperation in forestry, agriculture, and fishery.

Myanmar’s 2014 chairmanship of ASEAN

"2011 has been a very, very important year for Myanmar and therefore, as a result, a very important year for ASEAN," Natalegawa told reporters after his meetings with Lwin and Suu Kyi.

Indonesia is the current chair of ASEAN, and will be succeeded by Cambodia next year. Last month, Myanmar was rewarded for its conciliatory gestures and reforms with the 2014 ASEAN chair, an announcement that was met by criticism from rights groups, who believe the move is premature.

Myanmar has been the black sheep of the ASEAN family, with a reputation that overshadows even that of human rights violators Laos and Vietnam. Rights groups believe Myanmar should be required to achieve further reforms before being granted the honor and responsibility of the ASEAN chair.
In Natalegawa’s view, the 2014 chairmanship would instead motivate Myanmar “to continue along its democratisation path.”

Five years ago, Myanmar relinquished its opportunity to head ASEAN due to international pressure for democratic reforms. The ASEAN chair is required to speak on behalf of the bloc and host its various meetings.

Report: Indonesia Supports Burma’s Democratization [AP, 28 December 2011]

Report: RI set to help democratize Myanmar [The Jakarta Post, 29 December 2011]

Report: Indonesia And Burma FMs Discuss ASEAN Chair [Eurasia Review, 28 December 2011]

Report: Indonesia foreign minister meets Suu Kyi in Myanmar [AFP, 28 December 2011]

Related Article