At the outset, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong our Singaporean host, Dr. John Chipman and the organisers of the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue for your kind invitation to me to attend and address this important forum. Since its inception 12 years ago, the Shangri-La Dialogue has truly become one of the most substantive and meaningful security dialogues in the region. I do believe that the full presence of government officials, military leaders, prestigious scholars and all distinguished delegates at this forum reflects the interest and the efforts to jointly preserve peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of a dynamically changing world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While languages and expressions might differ, I am sure we all agree that without trust, there would be no success and harder work asks for bigger trust. In Vietnam, there is a saying that ‘if trust is lost, all is lost.’ Trust is the beginning of all friendships and cooperation, the remedy that works to prevent calculations that could risk conflicts. Trust must be treasured and nurtured constantly by concrete, consistent actions in accordance with the common norms and with a sincere attitude.
In the 20th century, Southeast Asia in particular and the Asia-Pacific in general were fierce battlefields and deeply divided for decades. It might be said that the entire region always had a burning desire for peace. To have peace, development and prosperity, it is a must to build and consolidate strategic trust. In other words, we need to build strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. That is what I wish to share with you at this forum.
To begin with, Vietnam has a profound confidence in the bright future of development and cooperation in our region. Yet the trend of increased engagement and competition, particularly by big powers, not only offers positive elements but also involves negative risks that require us to take initiative and work together to prevent.
The Asia-Pacific region now enjoys dynamic development and is home to the world’s three biggest economies, and many emerging ones. Here, the trend of multi-layer, multi-sector cooperation and linkages is evolving vigorously and is becoming the prevailing one of the day. This is quite a promising prospect for us all.
However, looking back at the full picture of the region in the past years, we cannot fail to be concerned over the simmering risks and challenges to peace and security.
Competition and engagement are by themselves normal facts in the course of cooperation and development. Yet if such competition and engagement embrace calculations that are only in one’s own interest, without equality, respect of international law or transparency, then strategic trust could in no way be reinforced, and there could be a chance for the rise of division, suspicion and the risk of mutual containment, thus adversely affecting peace, cooperation and development.
The unpredictable developments in the Korean Peninsula; sovereignty and territorial disputes from the East China Sea to the East Sea (South China Sea) that are evolving with great complexity, threatening regional peace and security – firstly maritime security and safety as well as the freedom of navigation – have indeed caused deep concern to the international community. Somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims, and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition and power politics.
I would like to draw your further attention to the fact that maritime transport and communications are growing in scale and acquiring a much greater significance. It is projected that three quarters of global trade will be made via maritime routes and two thirds of that will be shipped across the East Sea. A single irresponsible action or instigation of conflict could well lead to the interruption of these huge trade flows, with unforeseeable consequences not only to regional economies but also to the entire world.
In the meantime, the threats of religious and ethnic conflicts, egoistic nationalism, secessionism, violence, terrorism, cyber security, etc. are still very much present. Global challenges like climate change, the rise of sea levels, pandemics or water resources and the interests of upstream and downstream riparian countries with shared rivers, etc. have become ever more acute.
We should realize that such challenges and risks of conflict are not to be underestimated. We all understand that if this region falls into instability and especially, armed conflicts, there will be neither winners nor losers. Rather, all will lose. Suffice it to say, therefore, that working together to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the region is in the shared interest of us all. For Vietnam, strategic trust is perceived, above all, as honesty and sincerity.
Secondly, to build strategic trust, we ourselves need to abide by international law, to uphold the responsibilities of nations, especially of major powers, and work to improve the efficiency of multilateral security cooperation mechanisms.
In global history, many nations have suffered from irreparable losses when they fell victim to power politics, conflict and wars. In today’s civilised world, the UN Charter, international law and the universal principles and norms serve as the common values of all humanity and must be respected. This also represents the precondition for the building of strategic trust.
Each state should always be a responsible stakeholder in the pursuit of common peace and security. Countries, both big and small, must build their relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect and, at a higher level, on mutual strategic trust. Big states have a greater role to play and can contribute more, but they should also shoulder bigger responsibilities in the cultivation and consolidation of such strategic trust. Besides, when it comes to the right voice or beneficial initiatives, it does not matter whether they come from big or small countries. The principles of cooperation and equal, open dialogue in ASEAN and other forums advocated by ASEAN, as well as this Shangri-La Dialogue, are born from and maintained by such a mindset.
I fully share the views of H.E. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia who said last year at this forum that small and medium countries could help lock major powers into a durable regional architecture. I also agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on what he said in a speech in Beijing last September: that a reliable and responsible cooperation between the United States and China would positively contribute to the common interest of the region. We all understand that the Asia-Pacific has sufficient room for all intra- and extra-regional countries to work together and share their interests. The future of the Asia-Pacific has been and will continue to be, shaped by the roles and interactions by all countries in the region and the world, particularly by the major powers and certainly, by the indispensable role of ASEAN.
I believe that no regional country would oppose the strategic engagement of extra-regional powers if such engagement aims to enhance cooperation for peace, stability and development. We should expect more of the roles played by major powers, particularly the United States and China – the two powers having the biggest roles in and responsibilities to the future of the region and the world. What is important is that such expectation should be reinforced by strategic trust and such strategic trust must be reflected in concrete and constructive actions of these nations.
We attach special importance to the roles played by a vigorously rising China and by the United States – a Pacific power. We would expect and support the roles of the United States and China, once their strategies and actions conform to international law and respect the independence and sovereignty of nations, to not only bring about benefits to them, but also to contribute genuinely to our common peace, cooperation and prosperity.
What I want to further underline is that the existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings Plus (ADMM+) as well as the Shangri-La Dialogue offer opportunities to foster multilateral security cooperation and find solutions to the challenges that arise. Yet it could be said that what is still missing, or at least still insufficient, is the strategic trust in the implementation of those arrangements. The first and foremost thing is to build a mutual trust when confronting challenges; taking account of the impacts of interactions, and enhancing practical cooperation in various areas, and at different levels and layers – both bilateral and multilateral. Once there is sufficient strategic trust, we could advance and expand cooperation and find solutions to any problem, even the most sensitive and difficult one.
Thirdly, when talking about peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, we cannot help but mention an ASEAN of unity and consensus, playing its central role in many multilateral cooperation forums.
It was hard to believe that a South East Asia once divided and embedded in conflicts during the Cold War could become a community of nations united in diversity and playing a central role in an evolving regional architecture like ASEAN today. The participation of Vietnam in ASEAN in 1995 marked a new era of development in ASEAN towards building a common house for all South East Asian nations true to its name. The success of ASEAN is the fruit of a long persevering process to build trust, nurture the culture of dialogue and cooperation, and cultivate the sense of responsibility to the shared destiny of South East Asian nations.
ASEAN is proud to be an example of the principle of consensus and mutual trust in the making of its own decisions. That principle is the foundation for equality among the member states, whether it is Indonesia with nearly a quarter of a billion people or Brunei Darussalam with less than half a million. That principle also constitutes the foundation for extra-regional countries to place their trust in ASEAN as an ‘honest broker’ in guiding the numerous regional cooperation mechanisms.
With a mindset of shared interests rather than one of win-lose, the enlargement of the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include Russia and the United States, the ADMM+ process that was put into reality in Vietnam in 2010, and the success of EAS, ARF and ADMM in the years that followed, have further consolidated the ground for a regional architecture in which ASEAN plays the central role, bringing about trust in multilateral security cooperation in the region.
I also wish to refer to Myanmar as a vivid example of the success of persevering with dialogue on the basis of building and reinforcing trust, respecting the legitimate interests of each other, which has helped open up a bright future not only for Myanmar but also for our whole region.
There have been profound lessons learned about the fundamental value of ASEAN’s consensus and unity in maintaining equal and mutually beneficial relations with partner countries and maximising its proactive role in handling strategic issues of the region. ASEAN could only be strong and able to build on its role when it is united as one. An ASEAN lacking unity will by itself, lose its place and will not act in the interest of any country, even ASEAN member states or partners. We need an ASEAN united and strong, cooperating effectively with all countries to nurture peace and prosperity in the region, not an ASEAN in which member states are forced to take sides with one country or the other for the benefit of their own relationships with big powers. We have a responsibility to multiply trust in the settlement of problems, enhance cooperation for mutual benefit, and to combine our national interest harmoniously with that of other nations and of the whole region.
Vietnam and other ASEAN members always desire that other countries, particularly the major powers, support the ASEAN Community’s central role, its principle of consensus and unity.
To return to the issue of the East Sea, ASEAN and China have travelled a long way with great difficulty to come to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) adopted during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in 2002. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the DOC, ASEAN and China have agreed to work towards a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). ASEAN and China need to uphold their responsibilities and mutually reinforce strategic trust, first and foremost by strictly implementing the DOC, and then redoubling efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
We believe that ASEAN and its partners can work together to develop a feasible mechanism that could guarantee maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation in the region. In so doing, we will not only help ensure maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation, and create conditions for the settlement of disputes but will also assert the fundamental principles of maintaining peace, and enhancing development cooperation in the modern world.
As for non-traditional security challenges such as the security of water resources on common rivers, by building strategic trust, enhancing cooperation and harmonizing national interests with common interests, I believe that we will able to achieve successes, thus making practical contributions to peace, cooperation and development in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Throughout her thousands of years of history, Vietnam has suffered numerous pains and losses due to wars. Vietnam always aspires to peace and desires to contribute to the consolidation of peace and enhancement of friendship and development cooperation in the region and the world. To have a genuine and lasting peace, the independence and sovereignty of any country, whether large or small, must be respected; and differences in interests, culture, etc. must be subject to open and constructive dialogues of mutual understanding and mutual respect.
We do not forget the past but need to put it behind us and look forward to the future. With the tradition of offering peace and friendship, Vietnam always desires to work with its partners to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and development on the basis of the principle of respect for independence, sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit.
Vietnam consistently persists with a foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralisation and diversification of external relations, being a friend and reliable partner to all nations, and a responsible member of the international community. Vietnam wishes, and has spared no efforts to build and deepen, strategic partnerships and mutually beneficial cooperative partnerships with other countries. It is also our desire to establish strategic partnerships with all the permanent members of the UN Security Council once the principles of independence, sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of each other, mutual respect, equal and mutually beneficial cooperation are committed to and seriously implemented.
At this prestigious forum, I have the honour to announce that Vietnam has decided to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, first in such areas as military engineering, military medicine and military observation.
Vietnam’s defence policy is that of peace and self-defence. Vietnam will not be a military ally to any country and will not allow any country to set up military bases on Vietnamese territory. Vietnam will not ally itself with any country to counter another.
In past years, sustained high economic growth has enabled Vietnam to increase its national defence budget at a reasonable level but lower than that of economic growth. Vietnam’s army modernisation is only for self-defence and the safeguard of our legitimate interests. It does not, in any way target any other country.
With regard to the present threats and challenges to regional security such as the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and the East Sea, etc, Vietnam adheres to the principle of peaceful dispute settlement on the basis of international law, respecting the independence, sovereignty and the legitimate interests of each other. All parties concerned need to exercise self-restraint and must not resort to force or threat to use force.
Once again, Vietnam reiterates its consistent compliance with the ASEAN Six-point Statement on the South China Sea and will do its utmost to work together with ASEAN and China to observe the DOC seriously and soon arrive at the COC. As a coastal State, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Peace, cooperation and development represent the interest, the ardent aspirations and the common future of all countries and peoples. In the open spirit of the Shangri-La Dialogue, I would call upon you all to join hands and take concrete actions to build and reinforce strategic trust for an Asia-Pacific region of peace, cooperation and prosperity.
Posting granted exclusively for the Modern Diplomacy
(*)Keynote Address at the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, May 31st, 2013
Biden administration’s policy towards Vietnam, and the South China Sea
The one big question loomed large about Biden administration and it was whether there be a change in Biden administration with regard to its policy towards South China Sea in comparison to Trump? The question became irrelevant when the new US administration buttressed the statement made by Mike Pompeo in July 2020.
In July 2020, Mike Pompeo the then Secretary of State has clearly outlined the US position on Chinese maritime claims related to South China Sea. It clearly stated that US intends to preserve peace and stability as well as reinforce ‘freedom of the seas’ in accordance with the international law and assist in unimpeded flow of commerce, and protect the interests of the ASEAN claimant countries. It also stated that the ‘PRCs predatory world view has no place in the 21st century’.
With the coming of Joe Biden as the new president of the US, the US state department during the press briefing conducted on February 19th clearly stated that the US has serious concerns with regard to the China’s Coast Guard law which allows the use of force by the Chinese Coast Guard against other countries. This language was seen as intimidatory and also enforces China’s claims in the territorial and maritime disputes of East China Sea and South China Sea by force.
During the press briefing it was clearly stated that the language which is enshrined in the new Coast Guard law allows Chinese Coast Guard to destroy the economic structures of other countries. Its projected apprehensions that this would legalize use of force from Chinese perspective in order to enforce its claims in disputed areas. In this press briefing the US buttressed the fact that it stands by its statement which was made on July 13, 2020 by the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which was related to the maritime claims of China in South China Sea. It also stated that it is adherent to the alliance commitments that it has made towards the Philippines and Japan.
The US policy towards South China Sea particularly in the context of the US economic and strategic interests in the region can be seen from the fact that the US deployed its one of the advanced submarines USS Ohio (guided missile nuclear submarine) in the contested waters. This clearly means that there is no digression from the Trump policy towards China, and Joe Biden is keen to pressurise China to desist from threatening its neighbours with regard to its claim in the region. The State Department spokesperson Edward Price has stated “We remind the PRC and all those forces operate in the South China Sea that responsible maritime act with professionalism and restraint in the exercise of their authorities.”
In fact, developments in South China Sea have also been discussed during the recent Quad meeting held on February 18th between the foreign ministers of the four countries- the US, Japan, Australia and India, and also reflected during the meeting of the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi. Antony Blinken has bolstered the fact that the Senkaku islands located in the sovereign territory of Japan falls under the security treaty obligations of the US.
Following the telephonic meeting of the Quad, it has been seen that countries such as Australia, Japan and the US would continue their patrolling in South China Sea. In the January 2020,the US aircraft carrier group had also sailed through the South China Sea for promoting freedom of the seas. Australia has also taken strong stance following its fall out with China, and Australian defence minister during its interactions with his US counterpartLloyd J. Austin in late January 2020 stated that the US and Australia would continue to work with alliance partners to maintain security, and enforce inclusive and rules-based order in South China Sea. Earlier also the Pentagon had issued a statement that maintaining ‘a free and open Indo-Pacific based on contemporary international law and norms should be free from malign behaviour’. Even Australia has stated the fact that Chinese activities in South China Sea in a ‘disturbing manner’ has complicated Australia security environment.
It has been seen that Joe Biden is also towing the line of its predecessor Donald Trump, and has been deploying ships and submarines to the contested region. As per the news reports the USS Ohio deployment in South China Sea shows that the US is willing to take more aggressive stance to protect its allies and also maintain security of Taiwan. In that context the Washington has dispatched guided missile destroyer USS McCain to Taiwan straits and the same destroyer had sailed through Paracel islands to challenge illegal maritime claims of China. The more deployment of submarines clearly shows that the US wants to undercut the deterrence capabilities that China usually displays by deploying its submarines in South China Sea. While China proclaims that it has effective carrier killer missile and anti-ship capabilities but it has not has upgraded its anti-submarine warfare in that context. The US Ohio can carry nearly 154 tomahawk cruise missiles and these cruise missiles can deliver effective impact given the fact that each missile can carry nearly 453 kilos of highly explosive warhead.
The stealth capabilities of a large nuclear submarine with that kind of a punch are an enigma for a country like China. In terms of technological superiority, particularly in underwater operations, and lethality the US is far ahead of Chinese capabilities. Chinese anti-submarine capabilities are developed to operate closer to the shores rather than in the open seas. Given the fact that Ohio has a stealth advantage therefore it will be difficult for China to detect it even closer to its shores. It is believed that the US will be deploying more of its aircraft carriers and submarines so as to deter China and monitor its assertive activities. It has been seen that China has become too much intimidating to the Taiwan and also is closely guarding the approach route to Taiwan through the South China Sea.
During the opening weeks of the Biden administration, it has clearly indicated that many of the Trump administration policies towards China will continue unimpeded. The US Navy would conduct regular ‘freedom of navigation operations’ and in early February the US Navy had remarked that two aircraft carriers have been operating together in the South China Sea disputed waters. The destroyer John S McCain passed through the Taiwan Strait in the first week of February and conducted freedom of navigation operations in the disputed Paracel islands. The new Secretary of State had made a call to his counterparts in Vietnam and the Philippines, and assured that the US was not retreating from its stance on South China Sea and completely dispelling the excessive Chinese claims of maritime rights. He has assured that the US was committed to enforcing a rules-based order in the contested waters. The statement which was released subsequently stated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that the US stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of PRC pressure. The US approach is reassuring and critical during these trying times in South China Sea.
Myanmar: Exploiting lessons learnt in the Middle East
Demonstrating for the third week their determination to force the country’s military to return to its barracks, protesters in Myanmar appear to be learning lessons from a decade of protest in the Middle East and North Africa.
By the same token, Myanmar’s protesters, in stark contrast to public silence about the military’s brutal repression of the Rohingya minority in recent years, seem to want to forge a national identity that supersedes past emphasis on ethnicity and/or religion.
In doing so, they, like their counterparts in Lebanon and Iraq, reject sectarian policies that allowed elites to divide and rule and distract attention from economic and social grievances held by all segments of the population.
As they resist the military’s February 1 coup that nullified a democratic election won in November in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) because of alleged electoral fraud, protesters confront many of the same obstacles that demonstrators in Thailand, Turkey, Sudan, and Algeria face.
The ability to address desperately needed reforms with a buy-in from the military will shape a return to democracy and the sustainability of the transition. Taking military concerns into account reforms will have to include civilian control of the military, defining the military’s mission in national defence rather than ideological terms, and regulating the armed forces’ vast economic interests.
The Middle East and North Africa provide cautionary tales like Egypt that eight years after a coup has become a brutal dictatorship and Libya, Syria and Yemen that are wracked by war, as well as potential models, that would serve Myanmar’s democratization well.
Tunisia, the one Arab country to have pushed political transition relatively successful, was able to do so because Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian autocrat who was overthrown in 2011, had ensured that the military had no vested interest in the country’s political system.
Mr. Ben Ali decimated the military leadership, severely cut the budget of the armed forces early on in his 24-year rule and sidelined the military, relying instead on security forces and law enforcement. As a result, the military effectively stood aside when protesters staged mass anti-government demonstrations.
The positioning of Tunisia’s armed forces may not offer Myanmar immediate options, but it highlights the need for a military that understands itself as a national institution rather than a party with vested political and economic interests.
Of more immediate importance to Myanmar is the fact that Mr. Ben Ali as well as the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen were toppled by an informal alliance between civil society and either factions of the military or the armed forces as a whole. They shared a short-term interest in removing the incumbent from power.
The same is true for Southeast Asia’s people power revolts in the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1980s and 1990s. In Myanmar, it was the military that opted for a degree of political liberalization following decades of intermittent mass protest.
It took Tunisian civil society’s engagement with the security forces as well as other segments of society and the existing power structure to nurture the democratization process. By contrast, the process was derailed in much of the Middle East by a post-revolt breakdown of the alliance, often aggravated and/or manipulated by external forces.
The Tunisian approach enabled all parties to manage the inevitable divergence of interests once Mr. Ben Ali had been toppled, juxtaposing civil society’s quest for wholesale political and economic reform with the security forces’ insistence on the preservation of their economic and political interests and rescue of as much of the ancien regime as possible.
In Tunisia, like in other post-revolt countries, the divergence kicked in the moment the incumbent was removed. The Middle East and Southeast Asia’s experience demonstrates that the pitfalls are embedded in the compromises made to establish a transitionary government.
Inevitably, the military and/or security forces either constitute the transition government or are a powerful part of it. Their track record is one of taking liberties in protecting their interests.
Like in Myanmar this month, the military crosses red lines when the transition endangers those prerogatives. Learning how to counter the pitfalls of perilous but inevitable cooperation with at least segments of the military and/or security forces is a work in progress.
Turkey provides a different set of lessons. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s turn towards repression and authoritarianism in the wake of a failed military coup in 2016 suggests that civilian control does not offer a magic wand even if the takeover was foiled by protesters who set aside their social, ideological, and political differences.
If this is a cautionary tale, Turkey also offers solutions to at least one of the issues: the military’s economic interests. Turkey’s military, even before the imposition of civilian control, put its economic house in order by creating a conglomerate, one of the country’s largest, that is owned by the military pension fund and subject to regulation, civic and commercial law, and markets like any other privately held institution.
As civil obedience in Myanmar persists, protesters have certain advantages.
Rather than being on their own, the protesters benefit from being at the forefront of a wave of defiance and dissent that for the past decade and no doubt the next is fueled by a breakdown in confidence in political systems and leadership.
With the pandemic, the widespread mismanagement of public health responses, the global economic downturn and dislocation, and technological change, the coming decade promises to be perhaps even more turbulent.
In addition, Myanmar protesters’ may be beneficiaries of the electoral defeat of US President Donald Trump and the rise of Joe Biden, who has pledged to make human rights a central plank of his foreign policy.
Granted, US adherence in its foreign policy to its human rights values has at the best of times been checkered.
Nonetheless, Mr. Biden’s approach, even if imperfectly applied, erases the permissive environment that autocrats enjoyed during the Trump years.
There is, moreover, a reason to believe that Mr. Biden will be truer to his pledge because it is key to US efforts to repair the credibility and reputational damage suffered by the United States because of Mr. Trump’s America First policy; disdain for multilateralism, international institutions, and international law; empathy with autocrats; and disregard for human rights.
Playing into Mr. Biden’s emphasis on human rights is the fact that the protests, like in Lebanon and Iraq, appear to have broken down ethnic and religious fault lines.
Yangon’s usually hidden Rohingya community has openly joined the protests four years after detained democratically elected Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi stood by and later defended the military’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, more than 700,00 of which fled to Bangladesh.
Burmese who in recent years used Twitter to attack and threaten Rohingya activists living in exile have apologized since the February coup, recognizing that military rule poses a threat to all.
Political transition, like reconciliation, is a long-drawn-out process that can take up to half a century to play out. It is a process of two steps forward and steps backwards as Myanmar is discovering now.
The Myanmar military understands that tacit Russian and Chinese support may not be as much of a lifesaver as it was in the past. That may explain the military’s reluctance to crush the protests even if the likelihood of an imminent crackdown is high.
If the experience of Egypt is anything to go by, the military can brutally suppress and keep a lid on unrest for a period of time. It may preserve the military’s interests for a while, but it cannot provide sustainable economic solutions or ensure stability.
In contrast to Egypt, protesters in Myanmar have the advantage that they are demanding recognition of a current election outcome that could put a new government in a position to redefine the role of the military and regulate its economic interests.
Based on the experience of Egypt, one core bone that the government would likely have to throw the military is immunity against prosecution for past crimes. That may be a bitter pill to swallow and violate principles of truth and accountability as an important pillar of transition.
As Egypt demonstrates, it offers no guarantee of keeping the military in its barracks. But it may be the carrot that helps entice the military to make the concessions needed for a democratic transition.
For now, Myanmar cries out for non-partisan independents capable of helping the military and the protesters to back away from a zero-sum game that seems destined to result in bloodshed.
That is likely to prove a gargantuan task as Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spearheads efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to mediate a way back from the brink.
In the words of former International Crisis Group Myanmar analyst Morten B. Pedersen “when a military obsessed with order and stability…confronts an essentially leaderless popular movement driven by youthful anger and shattered hopes, compromise is perhaps the hardest thing of all.”
How International Law Sight Towards the Coup D’etat Process in Myanmar
The Union of Myanmar is a sovereign state, where the Capital City is located in Yangon before moved to the Naypyidaw on November 7th, 2005 by the action of Junta’s Military Governance. As known, in the historical background, Myanmar is a country that has been through the grip of a military dictatorship for over six-decade.
Previously, in the brief story of Myanmar, in the 19th century, (in the Konbaung Dynasty),Burma took control of an area that includes a modern territory of Myanmar, also briefly controlled Manipur and Assam. In that era, Britain dominated Myanmar after three of the Anglo-Burma War and thus this country was colonialized by the British. Myanmar got independence in 1948 to be a democratic state but was being coup d’etat by the military in 1962, which General Ne Win wrested the governmental mandate from Prime Minister U Nu, who was in power since 1948. At that phase, this country got passeda tough regime, which gave an unsavory impact, particularly in economic aspect and various inhuman acts, such as against ethnic, where United Nations and many International Organization always reported a significant case about human rights there. In 2011, Junta’s Military was dissolved after the elections in 2010, but this country is still can not refuse all the criticism in the previous measures of the old government to the towards minority ethnic.
In the general elections 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi Party is the winner of the majority parliament, where this is can be the historical point to Myanmar to get a democratization opportunity. Based on the general election result in November 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) won 396 of the 476 parliamentary seats, while the military-backed opposition, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), only got 33 seats. However, Myanmar’s Military is still the major force in politic, since The 2008 Constitution (which the controversial rules) is granted the military rights to control the government and that is constitution also reward the Tatmadaw Military to get 25% parliamentary seats in the important aspect in the national security sector, which includes the ministries of interior, border, and security affairs. Specifically, even the NLD dominated parliamentary seats, the military stronghold still controls the government. Hence, the military insists refused the result of the election, and the Press Secretary of the USDP, Doctor Nandar Hla Myint believes there is a fraud of the mass elections, and if this case is not handled in advance, this could make damage or political chaos. The General of Military, Min Aung Hlaing also stipulated, the evaluation of elections is indeed a non-fair and dishonest practice. Thus, before the trial was open by the parliament, the coup d’etat happened by the military. The NLD party led by Aung San Suu Kyi began to gain a political arena until finally today Myanmar falls into the hands of the generals again.
This is the second time the military success to dethrone through democratic governance, previously the coup d’etat itself happened many time, such in 1988 when General Ne Win pension from the military and replaced by Sein Lwin who is well known as a person that brutally to the Pro-Democratic, thus he has been beaten back by the mass action, and Doctor Maung Maung replaced him at that time. But not long after that, there is a coup d’etat internal by the military which takes over by General Jaw Maung who has also established a new party, named State Law and Order Restoration Committee (SLORC).
Various international sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar. In 1996, the European Union decided to ban arms sales to Myanmar. The United States has also imposed sanctions since 1988, prohibiting new investment by its citizens in Myanmar in 1997, then closing the gap for imports of products from Myanmar in 2003.
Regarding the actions by Myanmar’s Military, several International Community has constituted Myanmar as a breach of international values and some country has banned a few aspects to Myanmar as mention above, however, how the International Law views it?
International Law Perspective
Based on the UN Charter views, under Article 1 (1) affirmed, should take effective measures to prevent and thrown a threat of peace where have a correlate with Resolutions of the UN Security Council which called upon States not to recognize a certain authority or even decided that the Member States should refrain from recognizing a certain authority would hardly have been necessary if recognition had no legal meaning. It concludes, the prohibition to recognize new governance from the coup d’etat result, because in case of the legal commitment to the democratic government of a State, the other States only may continue to recognize the exiled democratically elected government a revival as a measure for the protection and consolidation of democratic government. Other than that, as examine in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States is has to fulfill 4 qualifications, a permanent population; a defined territory; government; the capacity to enter into relations with the other states. In this convention sight, especially in Government point, it complies with the sovereign government that holds the highest power and is formed to carry out the running of the government of a country. As known, Myanmar is currently being a democratic state as the result in the general elections 2020 where Aung San Suu Kyi has won the vote, thus the state should honor and deem in this democratic regime. However, the military is trying to take over the governance back, this form of breaches the democratic rules, wherein this system did not recognize dualism of leadership, as did by Myanmar’s military. Even Myanmar did not sign and ratified this convention, it still ought to be legally binding, since this is recognized by civilized nations as one of the basic international agreements in international law.
Accordance to the coup of Myanmar’s military is not in line with ASEAN’s Charter which contains many democracy references, wherein in the preamble conduct, “Adhering to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.” Especially Article 1 lists “strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and the rule of law as among ASEAN’s main purposes.” And also in Article 2 on the organization’s “principles” includes “adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government.” Therefore, Myanmar as a member of this charter since 1997, ought to uphold the purpose of this agreement.
Subsequently, the Coup D’etat action by Myanmar’s military is a tantamount form of treason towards a democratic system, which the legitimate government is defeated by the military without a concrete reason, lack of evidence, and unclear accusations, that is just a prejudice of fraud in the elections by Myanmar’s military to the Aung San Suu Kyi party, and most United Nations officials and diplomats voiced alarm at the February 1, 2021 coup and the brutal response to some of the massive protests unsteady Myanmar because fails to comply with the basic rule of law principles.
Myanmar’s Military action is also indeed not in compliance with customary international law that honor by many countries, where refuse to recognize any government set up under these circumstances or any Government elected as a result of these illegal actions. For instance, in some state practices, firstly, there is a Canada action that declares all the Organizations of the American State (OAS) won’t recognize any governance that is made by the coup d’etat, which is Norway to the Haiti Government. Secondly, British action that did not recognize the governance in Cambodia since the genocidal Pol Pot Government of Cambodia and the Rawlings Government in Ghana by the public and the media, which considered formal recognition as tantamount to moral approval. Thirdly, the Belgian Government refused to recognize Mao Tse-tung instead of Tshiang Kai-shek as the Government of the Chinese State, and so on. Since based on both principle and State practice of recognition of the government in International Law.
Protest also provoke by the International Community, Britain, and the European Union that refuse those action by did not recognize the new governance, because the way the military did is indeed unprocedural, as affirmed in Tobar and Wilson doctrines of formally denying recognition to governments coming to power by unconstitutional means and combining them with the element of continued recognition of the democratically elected governments forced into exile by coup d’état or revolution. Strengthen in Stimson Doctrine, examine about the condemn all recognition of new situations by third States is an important mechanism in international relations, and this doctrine was the start of a process of customary international law formation for a rule prohibiting recognition of situations resulting from unlawful acts that in line with the international legal order, as a coup of Myanmar’s Military did to the Aung San Suu Kyi governance.
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) role as an international organization has presented in the ASEAN election of Myanmar’s general election in 2020 as a form of election observation that is chasing to get an additional handling a political crisis without a coercive way by ASEAN, which should be more legitimacy to the election process, and this might dilute the Tatmadaw prejudice to justify the coup. Moreover, ASEAN responded to this current issues that represent by Brunei as an ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship stipulated, “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” in Myanmar, that statement is indeed a democratic principle in the ASEAN Charter since it implied with a non-coercive form of intervention to the internal affairs that honor by each party. Consider sanctions of a breach of this charter is nonexistent, thus it’s only come with the increased statements of concern regarding Myanmar’s internal affairs from each member in the recent years to condemn the coercive instrument. Even if, there is no significant settlement to Myanmar’s coup, this organization still tried to stands to learn important lessons from its actions for developing regional crisis management and prevention mechanisms to fulfill ASEAN’s aspirations of strengthening democracy.
For the foregoing reason, Myanmar’s Military action is indeed opposed by many sources in International Law, contemplate the democracy is the government of the people and for the people (Hans Kelsen), hence in the democratic system is really honor the freedom of speech and the recognition of fair government, and due to Myanmar’s Military measures to NDL Party that led by Aung San Suu Kyi it ought void because no relevant all on times.
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