ASEAN ready to assist Myanmar

Hakim Hayat

Amid the unfolding unrest since the military coup in Myanmar, the ASEAN 2021 Chair has called on all parties in the country to refrain from instigating further violence, and conveyed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.

In the Chair’s Statement on the Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (IAMM) between the bloc’s foreign ministers held virtually on March 2, the ASEAN Chair also urged all parties concerned in Myanmar to seek a peaceful solution, through constructive dialogue and practical reconciliation, in the interests of the people and their livelihood. The country has been in chaos since February 1, when a coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking daily mass protests. There have been reports of clashes between protestors and security forces in the past two weeks, where dozens of civilian lives were lost.

The ASEAN Chair has called on for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility, in the statement, “We, as an ASEAN family, have been closely following the current developments in the ASEAN region and concurred that the political stability in any, and all ASEAN member states is essential to achieving a collective peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community.”

The meeting also heard some calls for the release of political detainees and for the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar to engage the parties concerned.

ASEAN also underscored the importance of Myanmar’s continued efforts in addressing the situation in the Rakhine State, including commencing the repatriation process, in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner, in accordance with its bilateral agreements with Bangladesh.

The IAMM discussed the progress of the implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, working on an ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision, advancing ASEAN’s initiatives to respond to and recover from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, ASEAN’s external relations, as well as exchanging views on pressing regional issues of concern. In pursuit of strengthening regional solidarity, ASEAN reiterated that the political stability in the bloc’s members is essential to achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community: “We underscored the need to maintain our unity, centrality, and relevance in the region and to collectively address common challenges. We recognised that the strength of the ASEAN Community lies in putting people at its centre.”

The statement also reiterated the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government, respect for fundamental freedoms, and the promotion and protection of human rights. The statement also touched on the current progress of ASEAN’s collective response to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated their commitment to implement the initiatives in the Implementation Plan of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework in a timely and effective manner: “We welcomed the establishment of the Task Force on the Operationalisation of the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework (ATCAF) and encouraged the expeditious conclusion of the ATCAF. We welcomed the decision to utilise USD10.5 million from the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to procure vaccines for the people of ASEAN as soon as possible.” The association is also encouraging the early operationalisation of the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies and the timely establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.

“We noted efforts to address the impacts of the pandemic on ASEAN’s Community-building as well as efforts to narrow the development gap in the region.

We agreed to maintain ASEAN’s proactive and outward-looking approach in the conduct of ASEAN’s external relations based on shared interest, constructive engagements, and mutual benefits, which can contribute to ASEAN’s Community-building and development cooperation efforts, as well as efforts to ensure swift, comprehensive, and sustainable regional recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On the matter of developing an ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision, they acknowledged the importance of continuity in this multi-year endeavour, such as having it co-chaired by a permanent shepherd for the duration of the visioning exercise together with the incumbent ASEAN Chair: “We also agreed that the development of this vision should be pursued in a comprehensive, pragmatic, balanced, inclusive and coordinated manner across the three ASEAN Community pillars, sectoral bodies and with the relevant stakeholders, including at the Leaders’ level.”

ASEAN also reaffirmed support for Brunei Darussalam’s priorities and deliverables under the theme of ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, and agreed to develop a Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Link ASEAN Responses to Emergencies and Disasters (ASEAN SHIELD) across the three ASEAN Community pillars. The statement also reaffirmed ASEAN’s belief that regionalism and multilateralism are important principles and frameworks of cooperation.