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Burma, Moral Character And ASEAN – OpEd

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For the religious adherence of the world, one might be wondering of whether the people residing in Southeast Asia, ever has a moral obligation, just by witnessing the treatment of Burmese given by the group known as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). It can be witnessed that Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, are staunch Buddhist countries, while Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei are Muslim countries, Philippines is Christian and the Singaporean believes in Confucianism, a traditional philosophy of humanistic, rationalistic religion, and yet not a single aspect of all the world’s religious teachings are ever applied to the current Burmese crisis. Instead, they are all cocked eyed looking for how to exploit Burma’s vast natural and human resources, as they have done since 1988 under the so called “Constructive Engagement Policy.”

Even though, the community knew that in the world, Business always overrules the conscience, we are awed by the leaders of these ASEAN countries, cannot see or hear the clarion call of the 55 millions, agonizing cries of the people of Burma, all these years, because the economic pie of the military regime’s natural and human resources, is so immense that the leaders of ASEAN have become totally blind to the moral aspect. The slight opening of the country by the Thein Sein administration dubbed by the international community, as the “the last frontier” has gone down the drain, and ASEAN sees this as the opportunity to legitimize the Junta, by inviting him as a de facto head of State. What more proof is wanted when the leading leaders of ASEAN warmly shake his hands, which is soak in blood. Hence, lamentably the acronym of ASEAN has become Association of Shame and Economic Abysmal Nations.

The continue protests, against the illegitimate military junta for more than three-months have cost dearly where 765 people were killed over 4,609 people were detained and 3,555 people are wanted for arrest not to mention the economic impact. But the most paradoxical aspect is the complete silence of the ASEAN, whenthe Junta simply walked back from the Jakarta Agreement, justifying that it will consider the bloc’s “suggestions” only once the country has returned to “stability.” Evidently its priority is to “maintain their ironic version of law and order and restore community peace,” that explicitly means continue killing, torturing, and arresting incommunicado, to anyone who appose them, including women and children. It’s exceedingly difficult, to convince ASEAN that All that glitters is not gold.” It is sad to witness that the moral character of the ASEAN has gone down so low, and the conditions is so acute that the region may have to be content by inviting an outside regional power, such as China or US or even EU to come into the fray.  

After the Jakarta meeting, Brunei issued a chairman’s statement on 24th April saying the leaders had reached “consensus on such matters as an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, the sending of the ASEAN chairman’s special envoy and the start of constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.

”The simple logic is missing “dialog of all parties concerned,” when ASEAN, paradoxically invited only the Junta and not the legally elected government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself, whose government has change only two syllables from NLD to NUG which in fact includes not only Myanmar but also all the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities. Perhaps, ASEAN is indirectly or discreetly encouraging the ethnic cleansing policy in Burma knowing full well that Non-Myanmar, ethnic nationalities population is more, if not equal of the Myanmar population that controlled all the country’s natural resources via the Tatmadaw. Why the hidden agenda? Are the ASEAN countries not satisfying all these years with exploiting Burma’s natural and human resources with its Constructive Engagement policy?

The decision to invite Min Aung Hlaing drew the ire of critics, who said, the move amounted to granting tacit approval to the junta. But ironically ASEAN justifies that the recent confab a “leaders’ meeting,” rather than a summit, to indicate that it does not recognize Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s head of state, according to diplomatic sources. Ironically, this unholy alliance indirectly begs General Min Aung Hlaing to stop the carnage for them to carry on the business as usual. Hence, it is no wonder that ASEAN faced strong pressure from the international community not to mention the ire of the people of Burma. Recently ASEAN appeal to Wunna Maung Lwin, the junta-appointed foreign minister of Myanmar, for restraint, was met by the escalation of the crackdown. What more proof is wanted when it is proven beyond doubt that ASEAN is just set up to exploit Burma natural and human resources.

One can clearly recollect that Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were actively involved in Myanmar for 10 years until Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 and their attitude toward the country has remained the same. When Europe and the U.S., in the past strongly condemned Myanmar’s previous junta, which in 1988 placed pro-democracy leader, later Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest after smashing pro-democracy demonstrations, ASEAN did nothing. When the junta ignore Suu Kyi camp’s landslide victory in the 1990 general election, these three ASEAN members, among others, defended Myanmar because they had adopted “developmental dictatorships” that prioritized economic growth over political freedom. And they advocated “Asian-style democracy,” which places more emphasis on social stability than individual liberty. So, this time, the three nations sought concessions from the Burmese Junta, rather than defending it, probably due to changes at home. Indonesia became democratic after the Asian financial crisis and Suharto’s authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998.

Malaysia experienced its first democratic change of government in 2018, while in Singapore, which has been led by the ruling People’s Action Party since its independence, the opposition has become more of a political force in recent years. The shift in attitudes towards Myanmar’s junta reflects progress toward democratization in the three countries, which have grown more sensitive to public opinion. These three nations were more concerned with their respective population’s attitude rather the people of Burma.

“ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the national unity government,” said Charles Santiago, president of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, “If ASEAN’s purpose is to strengthen democracy, as stated by its charter, they must give the NUG a seat at the table.” UN Secretary-general Antonio Guterres has called for leaders in Asia to bolster efforts towards finding a peaceful solution to the bloody crisis in Myanmar and have highlighted the relationship with ASEAN, underlining the bloc’s important role in diplomacy, conflict prevention and peace building.

Ironically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has begun negotiations to hold a foreign ministers’ meeting with the U.S. as well as with China, as the bloc seeks support for its efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar. Following the summit, the ASEAN chair issued a statement calling for the “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar.” But still, ASEAN has no way to enforce these clauses. It believes that it needs the support of the broader international community, particularly the U.S. EU and China, to pressure the Myanmar military to act. While China has remained quiet on the issue since the ASEAN summit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi has repeatedly expressed support for ASEAN taking a lead on the situation in Myanmar.

But one thing is very vivid the military coup has reversed a decade of progress in press freedom in the Southeast Asian nation, where at least 43 reporters are held in jail, dozens of others are working clandestinely, and local outlets are struggling to stay operational. The senior representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists in Southeast Asia, Shawn Crispin, said: “Myanmar’s military regime has almost overnight become one of the worst jailers of journalists worldwide, with at least 40 members of the press held behind bars.” At least 40 other journalists have been arrested since the military coup, while another 22 are sought by arrest warrants issued by the military junta. The embassies of the United States, the European Union and 15 other countries in Myanmar demanded the restitution of press freedom in the country and the immediate release of journalists arrested since the military coup but so far, no response.

Myanmar protesters are just hoping for Western intervention as their placards proclaimed, “We want action from UN, US & EU” or “US Army welcome to Myanmar”. Facebook and news articles are flooded with comments, in both Myanmar and English languages asking for external help, little realising that the international community is less likely to put boots on the ground to force the return of the NLD government, as perhaps the only action taken will likely come only in the form of solidarity expressed in press releases and debates in far-off meetings in Geneva and Washington. The simple people of Burma did not sense that the United States, the European Union, and their allies have neither the political will nor the resource-based interests in their country to follow through.

After all these years it is sad to see that the world does not realize that “Lying the very concept of truth” is the unwritten motto of the Myanmar Tatmadaw since the first military coup by dictator in 1962. One may look at the contemporary history of Burma that when the Tatmadaw blew up the Student’s Union on 7th July 1962, the casualty figures of the university students as only 7 when the University hospital doctor had to sign a death certificate of 126 students.

I am rather sorry to say that these young, extremely brave, and bright people will follow their predecessors, either to seek asylum in the first World countries or rot in the malaria infested jungles of the peripherals of the country because of the Western impotency.  

One thought on “Burma, Moral Character And ASEAN – OpEd

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    May 5, 2021 at 9:00 am
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    Not only ASEAN countries, our other neighbours who I need not mention are exactly the same. Everybody just wants this turmoil to end so there will be ” stability” once again with the military back in power and their lucrative contracts done with the military regime for exploiting Myanmar’s natural resources can carry on “as usual”. You might ask why they need a military regime in power in Myanmar rather than a democratic regime. Because the democratic regime demands investors to be more environmentally responsible whereas the military regimes have never cared about soil/water pollution and the effects of it on the local communities living near the sites. Clearly, examples such as the crushing of protesters in Letpadaung taung is one such example. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letpadaung_Copper_Mine . Furthermore, the military regime “deals” with any protestors in the only way they know how to….with force, shooting and jailing the effected people. That saves a lot of money for the foreign “investor” that does not want to incur any extra costs for cleaning up the environment. The longer the military coup lasts , the more irreversible damage will occur to the environment .Being in the same neighbourhood, our dear neighbours WILL suffer the same consequences of environmental damage and climate change.

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