US Presses ASEAN Chair to Hold Myanmar Junta Accountable to Agreed Consensus

Shailaja Neelakantan and Ronna Nirmala
Washington and Jakarta
2021-05-03
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US Presses ASEAN Chair to Hold Myanmar Junta Accountable to Agreed Consensus United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Bruneian Foreign Minister II Erywan Yusof (right) in London, May 3, 2021.
Photo courtesy @SecBlinken via Twitter

The United States urged ASEAN to press Myanmar to implement actions agreed at a regional summit last month, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign minister of Brunei, the bloc’s current chair, in London on Monday. 

The two top diplomats held talks amid reports that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was trying to draw the United States and China into diplomacy aimed at restoring democracy and ending violence in Myanmar after the Burmese military overthrew an elected government on Feb. 1. 

The diplomats discussed the role of Southeast Asian nations in resolving the crisis in Myanmar as Blinken and Bruneian Foreign Minister II Erywan Yusof held talks on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in the British capital, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

“The Secretary thanked Foreign Minister II Erywan for Brunei’s work as chair on this issue and urged ASEAN to hold the Burmese military junta accountable to the consensus plan,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, noting that the two “also discussed ASEAN’s role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar.”

The April 24 ASEAN consensus on Myanmar is rapidly unraveling after the junta chief there indicated on April 26 that he would act on the agreement only after there was “stability” in the country.

On April 27, the parallel civilian government said it would not participate in talks with the military unless political prisoners were freed.

ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus” on Myanmar called for an immediate cessation to violence, with all parties exercising “utmost restraint.” Myanmar military and security forces have killed 766 people, mainly anti-coup protesters, since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thai-based NGO.

The ASEAN consensus also called for constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy; the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.

The consensus was reached after leaders and foreign ministers of all ASEAN member-countries, including Myanmar’s junta chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, attended a special meeting in Jakarta.

The consensus did not mention the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Two days after the summit, Myanmar security forces shot dead a man in the city of Mandalay.

And on Sunday, eight people were killed after Myanmar security forces opened fire on protests against military rule, Reuters news agency reported.

ASEAN doing ‘very important work’ on Myanmar

Neither Brunei nor any other member-state has commented about the violence after the ASEAN consensus.

But on Monday, it appeared from a readout of the initial exchange when Blinken and II Erywan met that the latter had requested a meeting with Washington’s top diplomat.

“[F]irstly, thank you for having this meeting with me,” the Bruneian minister said, according to a U.S. State Department readout.

Blinken said that he was glad to meet II Erywan because of Washington’s and Brunei’s ties, but also because Brunei is this year’s ASEAN chair.

He added that ASEAN was doing “very important work” with regard to Myanmar.

Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council’s also expressed its “strong support for ASEAN’s positive and constructive role in facilitating a peaceful solution in support of the people of Myanmar.”

In the meantime, an ASEAN source told the Nikkei Asia news agency over the weekend that the bloc had begun negotiations to hold a foreign ministers’ meeting with the U.S. and China, to seek support for its efforts to resolve the Myanmar crisis.

Preparations for the meeting with China had progressed, while ASEAN and the U.S. were still hammering out the details about such a meeting, including how it would be conducted were a Myanmar junta representative to attend, Nikkei reported.

On Monday, BenarNews contacted Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah to ask about whether such a meeting was being planned, but he said he had no information about it.

BenarNews also contacted Indonesia’s Director General of ASEAN Cooperation, Sidharto Suryodipuro, and Indonesia’s permanent representative to ASEAN, Ade Padmo Sarwono, but they did not immediately return calls, text messages and emails.

If this meeting of foreign ministers of ASEAN countries, the U.S. and China happens, Washington and Beijing should push the Myanmar junta to resolve the crisis within the ASEAN framework, said Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

“I think the role for the U.S. and China ideally would be to either put pressure or whatever leverage [they] have to push [Myanmar] towards some sort of resolution within the ASEAN framework, not separate from the ASEAN framework,” Laksmana told BenarNews on Monday.

He added that if the ASEAN framework “is no longer on the table for whatever reason,” then other options should be explored.

“But right now, what I think is missing from the debate is how to integrate the international community – the U.S., the E.U., and others – with the ASEAN framework,” Laksmana said.

The researcher also said that ASEAN may have preferred Beijing’s involvement in resolving the Myanmar crisis. China has extensive economic and strategic interests not just in Myanmar, but in many countries in the Southeast Asian bloc.

But China, he said, may not want to lead this effort.

“China has also built links with NUG,” Laksmana said.

He was referring to the parallel, civilian National Unity Government in Myanmar, formed on April 16. No NUG representative was invited to the ASEAN summit, leading many Burmese and rights groups to criticize the exclusion.

“I think China is also acknowledging that there is no stable solution without the involvement of the stakeholders beyond the military, and of course, we should not forget that the military in Myanmar is also deeply anti-China as well,” Laksmana said.

“So I think, having listened to some of these concerns, it will be also hard to have China lead the way.”

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