Time to foster peace
There were a few takeaways from the Asean meetings held in Phnom Penh last week. Apart from political diversions and photo-ops between world leaders with Prime Minister Hun Sen, the most welcoming news was that Timor Leste is to be a new Asean member.
The presence of a new member adds some fresh air to the 55-year-old bloc. The inclusion of Timor Leste injects additional democratic spirit into what is a perceived non-interventionalist bloc that has taken pride in being a pragmatic talk shop.
But before any rejuvenation, Asean needs to deal with the Myanmar quagmire, which has been an existential threat to the bloc over the past year. While the Myanmar issue did not dominate the meeting in Phnom Penh, the image of an empty chair without a representative from the Myanmar government spoke volumes about the relationship between the bloc and the stubborn member. Asean has not suspended Myanmar's membership, but it was not invited to join the meeting.
The Tatmadaw has nonchalantly turned deaf ears to Asean's Five-Point Consensus (5PCs) that essentially calls for real peace talks with all relevant Myanmar groups. Despite a somewhat frosty relationship, Asean has still made it clear that Myanmar remains an integral part of the bloc and is "committed to assisting Myanmar in finding a peaceful and durable solution to the current crisis". For the next year, Asean has called on its foreign ministers to come up with a concrete plan and timeline to realise the 5PCs.
The situation next year will be a tough nut for the next Asean chair Indonesia, which is known for favouring a hawkish stance towards the rock-ribbed Tatmadaw. But no matter what the situation is, Asean must focus on its goal -- helping bring peace and fostering dialogue and providing humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. It's time Asean made use of its pragmatic talk shop and brought people together to talk.
While other member countries can afford to be hawkish and critical, the most affected country in the region will inevitably be Thailand, a country with a shared history, close relations, and a long and porous border with Myanmar.
It's been said that the Thai government has played a submissive role with the Tatmadaw. The public only knows that the foreign minister and special envoy have made clandestine trips to Nay Pyi Taw, without knowing the agenda, reason and outcome. No matter what the reasons and motives are, people did not see progress or direction from the Thai government. Perhaps, the Thai government should look at how Bangladesh, another Myanmar neighbour, has handled the issue. Over the past few years, Dhaka has asked world organisations, including the UN and Asean, to help deal with the Rohingya humanitarian crisis with limited success. The attention of the world community and of the West is now focused on the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Dhaka still has to manage a million Rohingya refugees.
Like Thailand, Bangladesh has to deal with the Tatmadaw. Dhaka has repeatedly and officially protested at the UN and summoned Myanmar diplomats to be reprimanded. But early this month, Bangladesh initiated dialogue with Myanmar to collaborate on anti-human trafficking and narcotics and to discuss ways to solve Rohingya repatriation. At least open dialogue and clear action plans have been initiated between the two nations. The Thai people would also like to see its government play a role in helping foster peace and propelling positive change.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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