Asean and Suu Kyi Must Work Together for the Good of Burma
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, June 15, 2024

Asean and Suu Kyi Must Work Together for the Good of Burma



If the reform efforts in Burma continue unabated, coupled with the visits of powerful foreign dignitaries, the once isolated nation could become a key player in the region.

Since August, the rapid turnaround has led to all sorts of scenarios and expectations about Burma's future in the regional scheme of things. As long as the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, stays engaged with the quasi-government of President Thein Sein, Burma's prospects for increased all-around international cooperation will continue. Ironically, for the time being, the flurry of diplomatic activity has been focused on Burma and its relations with the West.

At the Bali summit, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders decided to support Burma's holding of the group's chair in 2014 in the hope that it would further reform. That decision has prompted Western leaders to visit and widen cooperation with Burma. The US has been the most assertive in forging ties and encouraging reforms there. The historic trip by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November, and repeated visits by top US diplomats, is a barometer of Washington's high-risk diplomacy.

Burma's path to reform could still take an unexpected turn; nothing is written in stone at this juncture. In fact, the release of a few political prisoners last week showed that there could be some tensions between the military and civilian leaders. Even Suu Kyi voiced words of caution when she met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague about the ongoing transformations.

Strange as it may seem, enthusiasm among the West is far larger than within Asean in terms of visits and substance, as well as for providing further assistance both to Naypyidaw and Suu Kyi. For instance, since her release from house arrest in November 2010, Suu Kyi's guest list has been dominated by visitors from the West. Only a few Asean leaders have been included.

Last month, Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra became the first Asean leader to meet Suu Kyi in what was widely seen as a photo opportunity. Before that, she had spoken only to former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Philippine President Benigno Aquino and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called on her twice during Jakarta's Asean chairmanship. Her numerous interviews with the media, mainly Western, seldom mention Asean and Burma's integration within it, if at all. It is an open secret that she is still uneasy about discussing this topic. Indeed, she was not happy with Asean's decision to back the Burmese chair, as she believed it should have waited for more tangible reforms. She has yet to meet with Asean Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan.

Her relations with Asean go back two decades to when she embarked on a democratic winding road without the grouping's support. Instead, Asean pursued its “constructive engagement” policy, which defended and tried to legitimize the oppressive Burmese military regime, eventually leading to its joining the group in 1997. After her release from her first six-year term of house arrest in July 1995, there was a fresh effort to mend fences through a scheduled meeting between her and Rangoon-based Asean ambassadors ahead of the Asean annual meeting in Brunei a week later.
However, Burma's strong opposition forced the cancellation of the planned rendezvous. A subsequent letter from her submitted directly to Asean foreign ministers remains unanswered even today. In reality, Asean leaders do not respond to such letters, despite all their goodwill toward her.

Throughout the subsequent years she was under repeated house arrest and her supporters abused, imprisoned and killed—not to mention the effort to halt overall democratic development in Burma. Only Western countries spoke out strongly and in some cases personalized her endeavors. They adopted tough measures including sanctions and took their cues from her. In her view, Asean has not fought for the Burmese people's rights.

To be fair, there were three occasions on which Asean found the collective courage to defend her and criticize the Burmese government as an undeserving family member of the grouping.

The first followed the brutal attack in Depayin at the end of May 2003, in which more than 100 of her party's members and supporters were killed. Asean took a common stand asking for her release after she was again placed in detention. Asean wanted some degree of guarantee that no further attacks would be made on her or her supporters.
The regime responded with a seven-point democratic road map. But overall, the Asean appeals fell on deaf ears. Asean-Burma ties almost reached breaking point between May and October 2003, when Asean leaders contemplated ways to reprimand Burma.

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kerry Wrote:
If ASEAN keeps moving in the right direction, and its support to Burma is unequivocal at this time, and ALL nations examine their own human rights transgressions and laws, and do whatever has to be done to move towards C21st thinking and freedom, then this must be seen as positive movement.

Burma INDEED has full and overdue capacity to be a leader in the region. When this tragic obscene nonsense is over (and that is close) no-one doubts that Burma will move into a new unity, strength, and peace.

All those well known entities who opposed this can slink off, your time is over, and your business and families will not be respected. Make true amends starting now, and learn to pray. Some human journeys have just begun.

Terry Evans Wrote:
The reality is that many of the South Asian countries have weak or poor state governance and corruption.

Public View Wrote:
Whether Myanmar joins ASEAN or not Myanmar must change the way we establish in public sectors, the strategy, the government's input for the public to be able to live like the public in ASEAN countries.
We need to address this to work together not only our own support but also the support from foreign countries.

Phyo Oo Wrote:
What a load of junk, Kavi. You and your so-called "three occasions on which Asean found the collective courage to defend her and criticize the Burmese government" were to save ASEAN's shameless face. Nothing to do with Suu Kyi nor the sake of Burmese people. Look back the undefendable events happening in Burma in those time. Now you say Suu Kyi needs to to reach out to reconcile past differences? Only then can Burma become a worthy family member of Asean? Get real, Kavi. The question has to be "is ASEAN worthy of Burma's membership when Burma becomes a true democratic country one day?

Than Lwin Wrote:
Democracies within Asean know very well how difficult and how much effort and sacrifices are needed to win an election. Even more so when it were to be held under an oppressive dictatorship regime. But more than 2 decades ago, the people of Burma overwhelmingly voted the person they loved with the bottom of their heart. In fact, if democratic principles are to be upheld, there is no leader more representative of her people than Daw Aung Suu Kyi, especially in this part of the world. Asean all along knows what Burmese people’s wish is but they chooses to ignore it, appeases the evil regime, which remains business as usual, continue killing and raping its own people, thereby prolonging the suffering of Burmese people.

Actually, this is a loose grouping with no morality, no principle and no rules. It accepts communists, fascists, rapists, and murderers. It is not for the people of Asean countries but a club of the people in power. That’s all. True democracies should not join or remain as a member in this grouping.

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