Conflict Alerts # 449, 28 October 2021
In the news
On 26 October, the first of the three-day annual ASEAN summit witnessed a collective expression of concern regarding the internal situation in Myanmar. The ASEAN invitee from Myanmar, a veteran diplomat, did not attend the summit as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was not invited. Hun Sen, the Cambodian Prime Minister, said: “… ASEAN did not expel Myanmar from [the] ASEAN framework. Myanmar abandoned its right.” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, “ASEAN’s decision to invite Myanmar’s representatives on a non-political level to the summit was a tough decision, but one that had to be done.” The ASEAN chair's statement called the regime to accomplish its commitment to the five-point consensus that the regime agreed to implement previously.
President Joe Biden, who virtually attended the summit joint the others in the expression of concern requesting to end the violence. He promised support to ASEAN in any of their efforts to hold the regime accountable to the five-point consensus.
Internally, on 27 October, 25 were arrested in the Mandalay region following a bomb attack on 25 October. On the same day, a regime appointed administrator was killed in Naypyitaw, which could be a revenge attack for a man’s death in detention. The bombardments and shellings have forced more than 8000 people to flee their homes in the Sagaing region, Shan and Chin state.
Issues at large
First, the ASEAN stand against Myanmar. The regional group has been blamed previously for inaction in several issues such as the Rohingya crisis or the South China Sea feud. Hence, this decision is uncommon. It is a result of continuous pressure from members such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This decision has been vehemently opposed by the Myanmarese regime as expressed in several official statements. Apart from foreign intervention, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister blamed that the decision “was done without consensus and against the objectives of ASEAN.” Myanmar also went ahead with the release of 5600 detainees, which was seen as appeasement; however, most of them were later re-arrested.
Second, ASEAN’s decision on the debate over the policy of non-interference. Malaysian Foreign Minister on 21 October has requested ASEAN to do “soul-searching” regarding the need for this policy given the current situation of Myanmar. However, some members may not be on the same page, as evident from Joko Widido’s statement on 26 October, stating, “It is important for us to honour the principle of non-interference.”
Third, the implications of internal conflicts within Myanmar. They are aggravating two larger problems within Myanmar. The fight against the regime and protests are happening during a pandemic situation. This has increased the numbers affected with COVID-19 and the situation has worsened due to lack of medical aid and strong governmental policy. The regime has claimed an effective vaccination drive which is impossible given the clashes and as citizens are fleeing the situation. The other problem is the depleting economy leading to fuel price hikes and forcing factories to shut including the Chinese invested ones.
First, although celebrated, the ASEAN strict stand against Myanmar will lead to an expectation of action in every conflict affecting the member countries which is marred with several internal conflicts. Also, such action will further push Myanmar, closer to its allies, China and Russia.
Second, the economic condition and fuel price hike will soon push the country into a food crisis. This will be catastrophic given the internal conflict and lack of good governance. But this could also trigger a change, similar to cyclone Nargis in 2008 leading to the road to democracy in 2010.