Why Asean has problems dealing with the Myanmar problem

Updated On: Jul 15, 2005

Jakarta – Asean's failure to deal with its biggest problem – Myanmar – stems partly from a split within the 10-member organisation on how to deal with the military junta, according to a commentary in The Jakarta Post.  

     Key Asean members look at Myanmar through different lens and have different policies, said Mr Jusuf Wanadi, co-founder and senior fellow of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
    ThailandMyanmar's closest neighbour, has become something of the junta's defender due to the vested interests of some of the Thai leaders. The Thai government's preoccupation with the insurgency in the deep South has also made it more reluctant to intervene in Yangon's affairs. 
    Malaysia, which had earlier championed Myanmar's membership of Asean, is now at the forefront in pushing for change in Myanmar. Kuala Lumpur is also opposed to handing over the Asean chair to Yangon next year. 
    Indonesia, now a democracy, is no longer close to the Myanmar military as it was during the Suharto days. Jakarta has tried convince the regime of the need for political change and does not want to see a further weakening of Asean caused by Myanmar occupying the chair. 
    Singapore has also been more visible in its attempts to persuade the military regime to realise the problems that it has caused for Asean, said Mr Wanadi.  
    Even Vietnam, no great fan of democracy, does see the need for Myanmar to change and to begin implementing its road map for political development. It has also tried to persuade Myanmar to forego its chairmanship.  
    The Philippines, another Southeast Asian democracy, is prepared to put some pressure on Myanmar, but its own domestic problems have hampered Philippine efforts. 
    As Asean seeks a common voice in dealing with Myanmar, civil society groups and MPs within Asean have been more vocal and are willing to push the issue of change in Myanmar much further, Mr Wanadi noted.  
    He said these groups "must now put  pressure on Asean's governments, its political leaders and its business elite to maximize their efforts to encourage political change in Myanmar".
The issue of change in Myanmar should be given serious attention by Asean and should not be left to the rest of the international community," Mr Wanadi added.

* Asean's problem with Myanmar (The Jakarta Post, July 14)