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Myanmar causing tension within ASEAN?

Updated On: Apr 25, 2006

The recent informal ASEAN meeting in Ubud, Bali saw no change in the regional grouping's policies on the recalcitrant member, Myanmar.

Although ASEAN is increasingly frustrated by the lack of democratic reform in the junta-run state, and harassed by heightened international criticism, it admits to being hamstrung by regional politics and the inability to influence Myanmar. This is allegedly causing tension within the grouping.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said that ASEAN ministers were disappointed after failing to agree on a common strategy to tackle the problem. Options were limited by ASEAN's policy of non-interference in members' domestic affairs. He told Bernama, “I think we recognised that the Myanmar issue has crept in to disunite ASEAN because there are different views held but we cannot project that to the world.” He added that although no answer was found, at least the issue was addressed. He concluded, “If Myanmar does not want to make a move, there is nothing we can do.” He also disapproved of isolating Myanmar or using economic sanctions, seeing positive engagement as the way. Nonetheless, he felt that ASEAN's non-interference policy should be reviewed as "non-interference does not mean that we ignore things that could weaken ASEAN”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said, “All we can do is to tell them of the international reaction… We cannot press them or intervene in their affairs.”Singapore also suggested that ASEAN should back off and allow Burma to progress toward democracy. Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told the press “the problem was that when the issue involved an ASEAN member, it became a domestic political issue in the other member countries”. He emphasized the “importance of Myanmar (Burma) staying on the roadmap toward democracy” and “call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi”.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said the ASEAN community will continue to encourage Yangon to establish democratic rule and draft a Constitution as part of the process towards national reconciliation.

Already, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana supports more active engagement. He said, “We share the same frustration and we think that together we have to see how we can get Myanmar to evolve in the direction that it is supposed to evolve in… [Myanmar] should be a country that has the same rules and the same behaviour [as other member states have].”

Burmese Minister Nyan Win promised to report all concerns expressed by the ASEAN ministers to the generals at home.

Sources:

Move to boost ASEAN's Role (Thai News Agency, 21 April 2006)

EU shares ASEAN frustration over Myanmar (AFP, 21 April 2006)

ASEAN meeting goes easy on Burma (The Nation, 20 April 2006)

ASEAN relents to give Burma more time to change (The Nation, 21 April 2006)

ASEAN fails to find new way to force reform in Myanmar (AP, 20 April 2006)