Thailand’s Engagement with Myanmar Rattles ASEAN

On June 19, Thailand’s caretaker government convened a high-level meeting with Myanmar’s junta, leading to a backlash from ASEAN member states and the UN, among others. In sanctioning the meeting, Thailand’s outgoing prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who seized control in a 2014 coup, violated ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus.

Given Myanmar’s failure to implement the Five-Point Consensus, its generals have been barred from ASEAN summits. Bangkok sent invitations to ASEAN foreign ministers a mere five days before the meeting, which was set up to “re-engage” Myanmar’s generals and complement ASEAN efforts to establish peace in the conflict-stricken country.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore declined, while the remaining seven ASEAN member states, in addition to China and India, attended the meeting in Pattaya. Singapore, for one, cautioned that it was “premature” to engage with Myanmar.  

ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus at crossroads

The Five-Point Consensus, endorsed by all ASEAN member states, including Myanmar, calls for the immediate end to violence in Myanmar and asserts that any state-level engagement must be done within the plan’s framework.

Thomas Andrews, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, at a press conference in Jakarta, called for peacekeeping efforts in the country to be re-evaluated given ASEAN’s lack of progress. He also warned that high-level meetings risk legitimizing the coup. Myanmar’s junta, which seized power in early 2021, has been tangled in conflict with armed militias, resulting in deadly violence throughout the country.  

The final days of a defeated government

ASEAN's failure to mediate a peace in Myanmar is partly attributed to Thailand. Experts say Prayut has "acted as a shield" for Myanmar's generals, and he is seen now as grasping at straws following an overwhelming electoral loss to the pro-democracy coalition led by the Move Forward Party in last month’s election.

The outgoing Thai government has defended itself, saying that the country shares more than 3,000 kilometres of land and maritime borders with Myanmar, and that it has been at the receiving end of refugees, putting it in a unique position compared to its ASEAN counterparts.