from Asia Unbound

ASEAN’s Myanmar Crisis: Part 2

Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar on April 7, 2021.
Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar on April 7, 2021. Reuters

April 22, 2021 3:29 pm (EST)

Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar on April 7, 2021.
Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar on April 7, 2021. Reuters
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This weekend, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold an emergency summit in Jakarta, focused on the dire situation in Myanmar, where the country continues to spiral toward widespread civil conflict and humanitarian crisis, and the Myanmar junta shows no sign of relenting in its iron-fisted control of the country. As a recent piece by longtime Myanmar observer Bertil Lintner noted, there is little reason to believe the Myanmar army will crack from within.

The summit, in theory, could allow ASEAN to play a regional mediating role, and to demonstrate that it has some ability to influence events in Myanmar, where the deteriorating situation is already turning into a regional crisis, with refugees flowing across borders, hunger rising in Myanmar, and the possibility of conflict spilling over borders.

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But initial signs regarding the ASEAN emergency summit do not suggest much hope for optimism that the summit will produce results that change the situation on the ground in Myanmar. The fact that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing plans to attend the summit suggests that he feels somewhat comfortable that the other ASEAN states are not going to take any harsh approach toward Myanmar; given ASEAN’s consensus style, other authoritarian states in the region area likely to block any tough approach.

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the key actor who could potentially exert some leverage on the Myanmar junta—the two are personal friends and Myanmar is heavily dependent on economic ties with Thailand—is reportedly not attending the summit, a sign that, despite Prayuth’s mild expressions of concern about the situation in Myanmar, he is planning to sit back and do little while Myanmar continues to disintegrate. Without Prayuth and other Thai leaders playing a central role with the Myanmar junta, and even being willing to twist arms a bit, there are few other external actors with a line right to the top junta leaders, except perhaps China.

Other major ASEAN leaders, like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, also seem like they are not going to attend the summit, further undermining the unity of ASEAN at the summit and making the summit ultimately less important and effective. As a result, the summit is not likely to have a major impact on the junta. ASEAN might convince the junta to allow some ASEAN observers into the country, an idea pushed by Malaysia. But beyond that, expectations cannot possibly be high for the ASEAN emergency summit.

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