A PROFESSOR AT CHULALONGKORN UNIVERSITY
A professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, he earned a PhD from the London School of Economics with a top dissertation prize in 2002. Recognised for excellence in opinion writing from Society of Publishers in Asia, his views and articles have been published widely by local and international media.
As vaccine diplomacy thrives and vaccine nationalism rears its head, it has become clear that the ideal global solution to the collective action problem of the coronavirus pandemic is for all countries to put their eggs in the same basket. If all countries are forced to rely on the global vaccine alliances' and the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Global Vaccines Access (Covax) plan, whereby any vaccine for one means an available antidote for all, the post-pandemic recovery would arrive faster and smoother with more promising prospects. But short of the ideal solution, the global health system is largely based on self-help, each country mapping its own plan for recovery with a mix of procurement strategies.
At its recent "special" summit in Jakarta on Myanmar's crisis, Asean reached its diplomatic maximum by coming up with a "five-point consensus" that will likely prove too little and too slow. Constrained by consensus and its non-interference principle where any of its 10 members has a virtual veto, Asean's overdue response to Myanmar's fast-escalating violence on the ground is likely to prove ineffective. As Asean's diplomacy faces limitations, more of Myanmar's outcomes are likely to be decided by the use of force in an intensifying civil war.
Asean's highly anticipated "special" summit tomorrow in Jakarta on Myanmar's crisis can be declared moot on arrival. What goes into it is likely more telling that what will come out of it. Nearly three months and more than 730 civilian deaths after Myanmar's military coup on Feb 1, Asean is still unable to address its rogue member state's atrocities against its own people. The summit attendance foretells trends and dynamics of what might come next in Myanmar's fast-moving and deadly events on the ground and how they will shape regional responses and global concerns.
Myanmar's spiralling post-coup violence and bloodshed has become Asean's existential crisis. It is customary to pin hopes on an Asean way of fudging and nudging the main protagonists into some workable, face-saving compromise to save the day but this time the situation is dire and dark. Unless the 10-member regional organisation can make a difference in halting Myanmar's descent into uncontrollable violence and potential civil war, Asean is at risk of undermining and perhaps ending its success story.
By all accounts, Thailand's youth protest movement over the past year has lost steam. Its key leaders have been charged on anti-monarchy grounds and jailed without bail, while the rank-and-file are demoralised, still on the move but in thin numbers. On the other side, the incumbent centres of power have reasserted control and put down what at its peak was the most vociferous and vigorous anti-establishment movement Thailand had seen in decades.
In the aftermath of the military coup on Feb 1, Myanmar's armed forces have evidently taken the lead in Southeast Asia's authoritarian race to the bottom. For its speed and depth of reversal from a fragile democracy to a hard dictatorship within six weeks, Myanmar currently ranks top among developing states worldwide. At stake now is not just Myanmar's political future and the well-being of its people but the fate of developing democracies elsewhere.
Asean is stuck deeper than ever between a rock and a hard place in view of its political impotence in dealing with the Myanmar armed forces' power grab on Feb 1. In an informal meeting online among its foreign ministers earlier this week, Asean not only failed to come up with common ground to broker a way forward away from the mounting bloodshed in Myanmar but displayed fundamental differences that have lowered the organisation's common denominator to new depths. The implications from Asean's sagging stance is that the pushback against Myanmar's military takeover must be carried out mainly by domestic political forces in the absence of regional effectiveness and with the limitations of global sanctions.
Already geopolitically divided by China's regional assertiveness, Asean is now facing a new fault line from Myanmar's recent military coup. Just like its divergent views toward China, Asean's mixed preferences toward the Myanmar armed forces' abrupt seizure of power on Feb 1 threaten to further weaken Southeast Asia's 10-member grouping and marginalise its role as the central organising vehicle for regional peace and stability.
Myanmar's military coup on Feb 1 and the popular anger and ongoing local protests in reaction to it inside the country pose multiple and multi-layered dilemmas for all parties involved. The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's armed forces are known, led by junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is now mired in repercussions and consequences well beyond its original intent. Whether the Tatmadaw prevails or not, Myanmar is unlikely to regain the traction of reform and progress that has been on track in the past decade.
When Myanmar's armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, staged a military coup on Feb 1, reactions inside the country and outside were noticeably different. As the coup effectively disenfranchised millions of voters who chose hitherto State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in a landslide victory on Nov 8, public anger inside the country was immediate and conspicuous just as Myanmar's newly elected parliament was about to convene. Many outside observers, however, were more guarded and hedged, portraying the cause of the coup as more qualified and nuanced. How the coup came about has become a bone of contention that will have much to say about the post-coup dynamics and outcomes.