ASEAN Summit on Myanmar Tests the Bloc’s International Credibility

Invitation list raises concerns over legitimacy . . .

On Saturday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a much-anticipated summit in Jakarta to discuss the crisis in Myanmar. Before the meeting, there was an outcry over the attendance of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who is responsible for killing more than 750 civilians in brutal crackdowns following the military coup on February 1. Meanwhile, Myanmar’s newly-formed National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel government comprising elected parliamentarians and representatives from the democracy movement and ethnic groups, was not invited to the summit.

Consensus reached, but questions remain . . .

Despite these concerns, ASEAN did issue a five-point statement after the meeting that notably calls for the immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, and for the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar. But the regional bloc fell short of agreeing on the release of political prisoners and the restoration of democracy – two core demands of the NUG. Following the summit, the NUG said it would continue to build international support for its parallel government. In contrast, the junta said it would “positively” consider ASEAN’s suggestions to end the turmoil in Myanmar – but only when it achieves stability.

Will ASEAN walk the talk?

Although the summit concluded with a broad agreement on ASEAN’s next steps to address the situation in Myanmar, the regional body’s role will continue to be under scrutiny. Previous regional crises highlighted the limitations of the so-called ‘ASEAN Way,’ based on principles of non-interference and consensus-building. However, with the junta currently showing no sign of easing its crackdown on the ongoing resistance movement, failure to promptly end the violence in Myanmar will further destabilize the region and impact ASEAN’s international credibility.