“We continue to lead in shaping regional dynamics and ensuring a peaceful and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” he added.
Seats for the Myanmar delegation were left empty at the 27th ASEAN Political-Security Community meeting ahead of the ASEAN Summit, in Jakarta, Monday, September 4 2023. (Photo: Mast Irham/Pool/AFP)
Apart from that, Retno also highlighted the increasing number of countries that have accessed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and become ASEAN partners. ASEAN, he said, would also sign inter-secretariat cooperation with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
“This shows ASEAN’s strength in unifying ASEAN norms and values,” he stressed.
Is ASEAN Still Relevant?
The question of whether ASEAN is still relevant arose when Myanmar’s domestic conflict was not resolved in the three previous ASEAN Chairships, namely Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam and the current Indonesia.
ASEAN observer from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Pandu Prayoga, believes that the relevance and credibility of ASEAN in the Myanmar context will be questioned considering that there has been no resolution of the conflict in that country.
“It is still (relevant), in the aspects of multilateral diplomacy, political security, economic and social cultural aspects, but in the Myanmar aspect, ASEAN must work hard. ASEAN could lose its credibility because ASEAN is not very central. “It’s not really considered by the members themselves,” said Pandu.
According to him, Indonesia as the current Chair of ASEAN must not only strengthen unity but also create centrality. In BRIN’s research, it is not just the centrality of ASEAN’s relations with partner countries, but ASEAN in the eyes of its own member countries.
“We unanimously ASEAN (agreed on the existence of) 5PC, but why don’t the member countries implement it, especially Myanmar. What does it mean? ASEAN is not very central for member countries. “This is what needs to be a comprehensive evaluation at this summit,” he explained.
Commander of the Myanmar Armed Forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (bottom right) met with the leaders of ASEAN countries in Jakarta, April 24 2023, to discuss an emergency meeting following the coup by the Myanmar military junta against the civilian government. (Photo: Laily Rachev/Setkab via AP)
So, even though centrality is known as the relationship between ASEAN member countries and partner countries, ASEAN’s role for its member countries has never been discussed, added Pandu.
Pandu added that Indonesia as Chair of ASEAN this time should have taken another step to resolve the Myanmar conflict, namely by inviting the Myanmar military junta to an informal meeting.
“How can we evaluate the junta’s performance in implementing 5PC if we never invite them for evaluation? This is a problem. “So invite them, whether they are outside Indonesia, or most importantly outside Myanmar, to ask what the obstacles are that prevent 5PC from being implemented,” he explained.
Apart from that, said Pandu, in this informal channel, ASEAN must agree on who will be appointed as a special envoy from ASEAN to be able to discuss with Myanmar.
“So, for example, Thailand takes the initiative to invite the junta informally, it should be within the ASEAN framework and approved by Indonesia. However, in an informal meeting held by Thailand, Indonesia was invited but did not come. Maybe he was hurt because he was stepped on, why did Thailand suddenly invite him. “There should be coordination with the Indonesian side,” he explained.
According to Pandu, a thorough evaluation needs to be carried out because ASEAN, especially Foreign Minister Retno, is too focused on her role as Chair of ASEAN and as a special envoy. From the beginning of its leadership, Indonesia should have included other stakeholders, for example, China and India whose territories border Myanmar.
“Then not only the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but also include the Indonesian military to liaise with military groups from Myanmar and so on,” he concluded. (gi/ft)