ASEAN foreign ministers advocate “Myanmar-Owned and Led” solution to crisis

Myanmar has been entrenched in turmoil since the military’s seizure of power in a coup in 2021, triggering widespread upheaval and abruptly halting a period of tentative democracy and economic reforms.

In a unified stance, Southeast Asian foreign ministers convened on Monday, emphasizing the urgency to resolve Myanmar’s ongoing conflict and endorsing a regional peace initiative while advocating for a solution “owned and led” by Myanmar itself.

Following a retreat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ministers issued a statement expressing solidarity in supporting a regional peace plan and emphasizing the importance of a solution originating from within Myanmar. The newly appointed special envoy on the Myanmar crisis, Alounkeo Kittikhoun from Laos, received backing for his efforts to engage with all involved parties, demonstrating confidence in his commitment to assisting the people of Myanmar.

Myanmar has been entrenched in turmoil since the military’s seizure of power in a coup in 2021, triggering widespread upheaval and abruptly halting a period of tentative democracy and economic reforms.

The recent engagement of the special envoy with the junta chief in Myanmar, as reported by state media, reflects ongoing diplomatic efforts. However, ASEAN and Laos have yet to formally announce details of the visit, leaving uncertainties regarding potential interactions with anti-junta factions.

Reiterating ASEAN’s dedication to facilitating a peaceful, inclusive, and lasting resolution to the crisis, the ministers reflect  Myanmar’s integral role within the regional bloc. Emphasizing the need for coordinated efforts in alignment with the peace plan, they urged an end to violence and urged for humanitarian access.

Internal discord within ASEAN has posed challenges in addressing the crisis, with the junta engaging in complex battles against pro-democracy militias, ethnic minority armies, and a shadow government. Describing these groups as “terrorists,” the junta has adamantly refused negotiations. The displacement of over 2 million people underscores the severity of the humanitarian crisis.

Indonesia’s previous efforts at diplomatic engagement were acknowledged, with doubts raised about whether Laos, the current ASEAN chair, possesses the requisite influence to advance similar initiatives. Myanmar’s participation in the ASEAN meeting, albeit sending a non-political representative, signals a tentative step forward, with the junta expressing displeasure over perceived ASEAN interference.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi affirmed ASEAN’s autonomy in decision-making, stressing that Myanmar’s involvement should not sway regional policy. Additionally, the ASEAN ministers addressed concerns regarding the South China Sea, advocating for restraint and the preservation of freedom of navigation, while also urging conducive conditions for dialogue towards a code of conduct between ASEAN and China.