ASEAN and China have entered Myanmar’s ‘zero gravity zone’ – The Diplomat
In a virtual conference in April 2021, Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu Told his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that it would be good to “come face to face” after more than a year of diplomacy via Zoom.
Instead, ASEAN has granted this privilege to China, twice: first in Fujian province and still in Chongqing, a few weeks apart. It is not surprising that countries in Southeast Asia wish to speak with China. Despite the pandemic, ASEAN’s trade volume with China has reached a record high of $ 731.9 billion (excluding services), and China will likely play a central role in the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s decision to host the foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN member states in Chongqing was also significant as it brought together Wunna Maung Lwin, the foreign minister of the military junta led by Senator General Min Aung Hlaing who came to power in a coup in February. To many, this amounted to de facto recognition of the military takeover and tacit approval of the violent measures – the military has killed at least 880 people since February – it has taken to crush widespread public opposition to the government. Rebellion.
Whether ASEAN member states realize it or not, the point is that Myanmar’s democratic transition in 2011 and its sudden collapse into a military dictatorship led the West to increasingly watch over the country, strategically nestled between India and China.
For example, at the G7 meeting last month in Cornwall, England, the crisis in Myanmar, and the global decline in liberal values in general, were almost high on his agenda. To counter the rise of authoritarian powers with a revisionist aim, whether Chinese or Russian, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have announced that the democratic powers must remain faithful to their values. The G7 concluded with an updated version of the Atlantic Charter. The reference to a document created in 1941, at the height of the clash between the Allies and the dictatorial Axis powers, implied the gravity of the present historical epoch.
In the case of Myanmar, most Western democracies condemned the coup and called for sanctions and arms embargoes. The UK and the EU, for example, have imposed punishments out of ten individuals from Myanmar and two conglomerates controlled by the military. Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly last month passed a non-binding resolution calling for a global arms embargo against the junta. The resolution was supported by 119 countries, while China, Russia, Mali, Iran and Egypt, and four other ASEAN member states – Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand – abstained.
At the same time, the two diplomatic actors who could perhaps play the most constructive roles in Myanmar’s crisis – China and ASEAN – are missing from the action. As evidenced by its invitation to Wunna Maung Lwin to attend the Chongqing meeting, the Chinese government appears to have made the decision to accept the coup as a fait accompli and recognize the military government. During this meeting he mentionned Wunna Maung Lwin as “Myanmar’s Foreign Minister”, while the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar reportedly recently called Min Aung Hlaing “Myanmar’s ruler”.
ASEAN, meanwhile, continued its own anemic efforts to end the crisis. Almost three months after the military coup in Myanmar, at the request of Indonesia, ASEAN met in Jakarta on April 24 to address the worsening crisis in the country. The meeting then issued a Five-point consensus. Of the five points of consensus, three are outcomes sought by ASEAN: the cessation of violence; delivery of humanitarian assistance through the ASEAN Coordination Center for Humanitarian Assistance; and the start of a political dialogue to get out of the crisis. The other two are mechanisms for achieving these results: the appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy and the dispatch of a delegation to Myanmar to meet with all relevant stakeholders.
But ASEAN’s efforts have so far not borne fruit. On the one hand, Burmese junta leader Min Aung Hlaing refused to play ball. The general said in a declaration that he saw the “five-point consensus” as a series of “constructive suggestions” but that his government would only consider the proposals “after stabilizing the country”. The junta’s statement put ASEAN in an awkward position, signaling that the regional body – like most outside powers – has little capacity to coerce the junta.
Then, nearly two months after the Jakarta meeting, two senior Bruneian diplomats called Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw to present candidates for the ASEAN special envoy, without making any concrete requests to the military junta. With ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi unable to appoint a special envoy to speak on behalf of ASEAN, let alone undertake a preliminary national assessment of the situation there, it is clear that ASEAN has no solution to the country’s crisis.
The failure of ASEAN seems to suggest the limits of the principle dear to the “non-intervention” bloc and its preference for the form of “of”.quiet diplomacy”Which ASEAN has fostered since its founding in 1967. While this approach seemed to work during the Cold War, helping to preserve peace among ASEAN members, the post-Cold War world brought a new challenge that ASEAN has done little to adapt to. Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has carried out only one major institutional reform: the creation of the ASEAN Charter in 2009. But the Charter lacks provisions to expel or punish any offending member state.
And so ASEAN is permanently stuck with Myanmar, and China is trapped with it too, because, despite China’s growing complement of air, sea and space power, Beijing does not necessarily have much influence over it. Myanmar. As the crisis in Myanmar continues, ASEAN and China now find themselves in a no-gravity zone. Unlike Western nations, they do not have positive “values” to anchor them to anything, nor can they display the clout or power necessary to compel Min Aung Hlaing to do what he would be loath to do. otherwise to do: restore democracy and return to the barracks, with the promise of respecting the will of the population.