Asean’s Albatross
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, November 18, 2018

Asean’s Albatross

By Asda Jayanama Thursday, March 24, 2005


Asda JayanamaVeteran Thai diplomat Asda Jayanama was recently interviewed by The Irrawaddy. Asda, now retired, was Thai ambassador to the UN from 1996-2001. In the interview, Asda—known for his outspokenness—pulls no punches as he reviews the “failed” approach by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, to Burma, called “constructive engagement.” He further warns of a potential deepening Asean rift over Burma’s looming rotating chairmanship of the grouping.


Question: To date, how would you assess Asean’s “constructive engagement” policy regarding Burma?


Answer: The idea of “constructive engagement” was born in the Thai foreign ministry, and when we had this idea it was not to engage just government-to-government but to engage comprehensively on levels of business and culture—people-to-people. But what happened was that the Burmese wanted only to engage government-to-government, and we followed the Burmese desire, and Asean followed the Burmese desire. It became rather a rigid kind of thing and that’s how it basically failed because we can only engage on topics that the Burmese government agrees to engage on, which are mainly economic… So it [constructive engagement] failed because of the Burmese interpretation.


Q: Asean has maintained a policy of non-interference in member states for 38 years. Regarding Burma, is this policy still feasible?


A: There are several examples where we have interfered in the internal policy of other countries, such as Malaysia. And there is the problem with the south of Thailand, which is criticized by Malaysia. So we can also criticize Burma. We can respect internal problems, but once a country’s internal problems and internal policies become a problem for us then we have the right to criticize. We should begin to interpret the situation in our way, the Asean way. We should look at the Burma problem as an Asean collective responsibility.

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