Myanmar violence raises pressure on ASEAN to de-escalate crisis

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations faces intensifying pressure to address the crisis within its member Myanmar, as worsening bloodshed tests the relevance of the 10-country bloc.

Calls for a special emergency ASEAN summit have so far proved fruitless. Meanwhile, Saturday brought the worst bloodshed since the Feb. 1 military coup, with well over 100 killed including children.

ASEAN over the years has successfully promoted Southeast Asia as an emerging economic force. Prominent members Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been pulling diplomatic strings while treading carefully around ASEAN's principle of noninterference in individual nations' affairs. 

On Monday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met her Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo, where they had an "in-depth" exchange of views about Myanmar and agreed to work closely together.

Marsudi explained how ASEAN members including Myanmar communicate among themselves, while Motegi welcomed ASEAN's efforts to improve the situation, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Marsudi's visit to Japan -- a major investor in Myanmar -- comes as Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan heads to China on Tuesday and Wednesday. He already made the regional rounds last week: He visited Brunei, this year's ASEAN chair, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, and discussed the crisis along with the possibility of a special summit.

Balakrishnan said of Myanmar while speaking to reporters in Jakarta last Friday: "It is essential for ASEAN's credibility, centrality and relevance to have a view, have a position and to be able to offer some constructive assistance to Myanmar."

At the same time, he added, "Do not expect quick solutions."

Sharon Seah, coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singaporean think tank, told Nikkei Asia that it appears difficult to obtain a consensus from all 10 member states on holding a summit.

But the violence in Myanmar has only increased, especially on Saturday, when the junta marked Armed Forces Day with a military parade and at least 141 citizens were killed across the country, according to media reports. As of Monday, 510 civilians had been confirmed killed since Feb. 1, according to activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Pleas for an international response are growing louder. The United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, last Thursday called on U.N. member states including ASEAN countries to hold an emergency summit of all stakeholders. This would include the ousted elected parliamentarians who have set up a Myanmar government in exile, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).

"Conditions in Myanmar are deteriorating," Andrews said in a statement, "but they will likely get much worse without an immediate, robust, international response in support of those under siege."

Separately, on Sunday, two senior U.N. officials in a joint statement called for ASEAN and the wider international community to "act promptly to uphold the responsibility to protect the people of Myanmar from atrocity crimes."

ASEAN was formed in 1967 by five initial countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Myanmar joined in 1997, when it was still under military rule before democratization in the early 2010s. The remaining four members are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The grouping of relatively small economies attracted investment from overseas and became one of the world's fastest-growing regions. It has also played central roles in regional frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, a rare international dialogue in which North Korea participates, and the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership trade pact, which the bloc's members concluded last year with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The Myanmar crisis, however, threatens to undermine ASEAN on the world stage./.

Source Nikkei