Situation in Myanmar not getting better, but Asean not 'rate limiting factor' for crisis resolution: Vivian Balakrishnan

Vivian said that Asean was "acutely aware of the need to maintain Asean unity"

Tan Min-Wei | February 04, 2023, 08:47 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

Asean foreign ministers had different concerns, but were ultimately united in their backing of the bloc's Five Point Consensus (5PC) on Myanmar, where the situation may have gotten worse since last year.

Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan gave a doorstop interview after the Asean Coordinating Council Meeting and the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Vivian spoke about the three focal points of discussion for the summit, those being Timor Leste, Asean integration efforts amidst global tensions, and Myanmar. The former two are elaborated here.

Not getting better

Vivian said that Myanmar had consumed a "fair amount of bandwidth" at the summit, and that the situation was not only not getting better, ground reports seemed to indicate the "situation may be worsening".

Vivian called for the release of political detainees such as President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, as the prerequisite for national reconciliation to occur amongst all the stakeholders, such as the military and the opposition National Unity Government (NUG).

Indonesia, as the new Asean chair and thus special envoy to Myanmar, was committed to engaging with all stakeholders, which was a critical factor to achieving peace and national reconciliation, Vivian said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, said after the opening of the Asean summit reiterated the strong support the 5PC has within Asean, after "frank discussions" on the matter, as reported by Reuters.

Asean has to do their best to facilitate efforts to resolve crisis

Vivian said that Asean was not the "rate limiting factor" for progress in the Myanmar crisis, as it is really the stakeholders leading the efforts to resolve the crisis.

This was possibly a defence of the critique from non-Asean voices that Asean's 5PC approach has failed.

Asean had to wait and see, but also do their best to facilitate, encourage, a well as promote peace, while also doing its best to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Asean unity

In response to a question from Mothership, Vivian wanted to emphasise the bloc was "acutely aware of the need to maintain Asean unity".

He acknowledged that the impact of the crisis "obviously affects (Myanmar's) neighbors more" than those further away, thus there were different levels of anxiety and concern.

But Asean members had discussed this "quite directly" amongst each other, and continued to agree on the need to maintain Asean unity and "a certain common purpose".

They also agreed to double down on the 5PC , and that all Asean members were "completely united" behind calls for the cessation of violence, national reconciliation, engagement of all stakeholders, and the need to continue support for the people of Myanmar through the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

While there may be a different emphasis on concerns, there was "certainly a unity and a common purpose in affirming, fulfilling, and implementing the Asean leaders' Five Point Consensus".

Humanitarian concerns

Vivian was asked about concerns regarding humanitarian assistance and refugees, especially as the United Nations Special Envoy Noeleen Heyzer has called on the bloc to do more to protect those affected by the crisis.

He said that the most important thing was to first stop the violence internally, then to begin the process of national reconciliation, for those within Myanmar to "sit at the same table as equals" and to have a "sincere dialogue".

That would "lower the temperature" and the level of violence, and thus lower the outflow of refugees.

While that was the primary focus, Vivian said it was unclear how long it would take before that was achieved.

Any humanitarian assistance that Asean provided would need to be provided in a "fair, open, transparent, and inclusive way".

But this would still require the cooperation of the military authorities in Myanmar.

Two years of military rule

The Myanmar military, or junta, conducted a coup two years ago in February 2021 and replaced the democratically elected government's president Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Both are current imprisoned by the junta with Aung San Suu Kyi being sentenced to 33 years imprisonment.

The junta have also executed political prisoners, with four being killed in July 2022.

However those opposed to the junta have been carrying out a concerted program of violent resistance against the military. The conflict has not slackened in the two years since it started and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the junta has extended the nation's state of emergency for a further six months, during which time an election cannot be held.

Reuters quotes junta leader Min Aung Hlaing as saying that that multi-party elections must be held "as the people desire", but did not say when.

Asean's 5PC was initially developed with the junta, but the junta has thus far failed to fulfil its obligations under the agreement.

Asean has in turn prevented the junta from attending Asean events, instead saying a non-political representative should be sent instead.

The junta has yet to do so.

Silent strike

Those in Myanmar marked the coup's recent two year anniversary with a "silent strike".

According to the BBC, activists had persuaded many to stay indoors and for businesses to close.

While it is not clear how prevalent participation was, it has been suggested that it was widespread across the country.

Many Myanmar citizens overseas likewise held protests and demonstrations.

Related stories

Top image via Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Singapore