THE recent visit by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Myanmar has attracted much criticism from both within Myanmar and from other members of Asean.
Contrary to the self-proclaimed “success” by both Hun Sen and the junta leader Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the visit has not changed the harsh reality on the ground.
In fact, while Hun Sen was in Myanmar, violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military continued and led to civilian casualties.
After Hun Sen returned to Cambodia, the junta even sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to another four years of imprisonment.
Indeed, there has been no indication whatsoever that the junta will take any serious steps to implement Asean’s five-point consensus (FPC).
The visit, and its outcomes, raised a lot of questions regarding the ability of Asean to remain united in trying to resolve the problem of Myanmar.
Hun Sen was reminded before and after the visit that the FPC should be a starting point for Asean’s approach to Myanmar.
Before the visit, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo clearly told Hun Sen that Asean must stick to the FPC to bring democracy back in Myanmar.
As this position might have been compromised, differences among Asean member states began to appear.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah clearly expressed his disappointment at the visit and said that “there are people who think that he should not have made the visit because his visit has been construed as some recognition to the military junta of Myanmar”.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore told Hun Sen that Asean must maintain the policy of inviting only nonpolitical representatives of Myanmar because there had been no significant progress on the ground.
In other words, Cambodia forgot that the Myanmar problem cannot be resolved through a unilateral approach. It is an Asean problem and should be resolved together by Asean.
Any step that deviates from, or runs counter to, the FPC could lead to the “normalisation” of the junta’s rule in Myanmar.
It is true that Asean should engage all parties in Myanmar if it wants to resolve the problem.
However, engagement should not be equated with “normalisation” where Asean begins to accept the brutal reality on the ground.
However, Asean should also appreciate Cambodia for trying.
Now, as the junta has once again displayed its recalcitrance, Asean must focus on what has been lacking so far, namely the absence of a coherent plan on how the FPC should be implemented, and how Asean should work with dialogue partners to resolve this difficult problem.
Otherwise, when Indonesia takes over the chairmanship in 2023, we will inevitably go back to where we started.
If we continue to go in circles like this, the normalisation of the junta’s rule in Myanmar will be reinforced at the expense of the ordinary people of Myanmar. — The Jakarta Post/ANN