ASEAN chair Indonesia to set up special envoy office on Myanmar

ASEAN chair Indonesia will set up a special envoy’s office to deal with the post-coup crisis in Myanmar but not allow that country to hold the regional bloc hostage, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Wednesday.

As holder of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ chairmanship for 2023, Indonesia will work according to the five-point consensus, she said, referring to the bloc’s plan for putting Myanmar back on a democratic path, but that analysts have called a failure.

“An Office of Special Envoy will be formed and headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Retno said in a statement.

“[As] chair and in accordance with the mandate of the 5PC [five-point consensus], Indonesia will make every effort to help Myanmar out of the political crisis. … Only through engagement with all stakeholders, can the 5PC mandate regarding facilitation for the creation of a national dialogue be carried out.”

Indonesia will take steps based on the fundamental principles and values of the ASEAN Charter, including adherence to the rule of law, good governance, as well as the principles of democracy and constitutional government, Retno said.

The Myanmar military, which toppled an elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, reneged on the consensus that it had “agreed to” in April that year. The agreement was meant to be a roadmap that would take Myanmar back to peace and democracy.

The consensus called for an end to violence, the provision of humanitarian assistance, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy, all-party dialogue, and mediation by the envoy.

Many regional observers and analysts, as well as the previous foreign minister of Malaysia, have said it was time to junk the consensus and devise a new plan that was time-bound and included enforcement mechanisms.

However on Monday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the five-point consensus was the best route to resolving the crisis in Myanmar.

“I and the President [Jokowi] agree that the ASEAN-approved process, especially the implementation of the 5PC, is the best place to seek a peaceful settlement in Myanmar,” Anwar said during a meeting with the Indonesian leader in Bogor.

Since the coup, the Burmese junta has carried out a widespread campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests and attacks that target civilians, the United Nations and human rights groups have said.

More than 2,700 people have been killed and More than 17,000 have been arrested in Myanmar, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Meanwhile, much is expected from Indonesia as ASEAN chair, especially in resolving the crisis in Myanmar, but analysts say that little will change unless Jakarta spearheads a hardline collective stance against the Burmese junta.

Indonesia is aware of the burden on the 10-member bloc, especially over the situation in Myanmar, and acknowledges that little progress has been made in implementing the five-point consensus.

“ASEAN is disappointed,” Retno said.

“Despite all the efforts of the chair and all ASEAN member countries, the implementation of the 5PC by the Myanmar military junta has not made significant progress.”

But Indonesia, which is ASEAN’s largest member, would not let that define the regional bloc, Retno noted.

“Indonesia’s chairmanship will also ensure that building the ASEAN community will remain a key focus,” she said.

“The issue of Myanmar will not be allowed to hold hostage the process of strengthening the ASEAN community development.”

A stable Indo-Pacific

Peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific will be another area of focus for Indonesia as this year’s ASEAN chair, Retno said.

In September, she signaled that ASEAN would not be a pawn in a “new Cold War,” referring to tensions between the United States and China, whose rivalry is playing out in the Southeast Asian region.

“Many countries have an Indo-Pacific concept. This is where a synergy is needed, so that the various concepts will not exacerbate the rivalry,” Retno said.

“Indonesia will continue to emphasize that the Indo-Pacific must be approached not only from a security aspect, but also from an inclusive economic development aspect.”

The centrality of ASEAN must be strengthened in order to be able to maintain peace, stability, prosperity in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific, Retno said.

“For this reason, the implementation of AOIP will be a big step in implementing the priorities of the Indonesian chair,” Retno said, referring to the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

“A peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region, respect for international law, and inclusive cooperation are the keys for ASEAN to become the epicentrum of growth.”

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