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Military Coup In Myanmar: Getting Democratic Reforms Back On Track

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The recent military coup in Myanmar brought looming contradictions in the country’s transition into sharp focus. It has also revealed the international short-term approach to an ingrained politico-military conflict over decades. Western observers have had a romantic and limited perception of Myanmar, which means little to average Europeans aside from being an exotic new tourist destination. Democracy still needs to take root in Myanmar and requires long-term solid commitment. While civilian rule has been suspended, it is possible that the coup will turn out to be brief and might follow the Thailand paradigm of bloodless intervention under a more assertive and organized civil society. A new cycle of violence is not a foregone conclusion. Myanmar has reached its most acute constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old junta in 2010 and the last coup in 1988.

Key partner actions should therefore include joining forces and diplomacy with Myanmar leaders to resuscitate political dialogue that had lost steam since 2019. ASEAN and EU have a meaningful role to play in inter-regional trilateral cooperation to avoid pushing Myanmar deeper into the arms of China which has significant economic and strategic interests in the country. B2B relations and knowledge sharing should also be scaled up through business and academic associations, instead of taking reflex action to impose wider sanctions. During the global COVID-19 response, additional entry points can be created to capitalize on local success in Myanmar’s resilience against the virus. Moving military assets in this direction can help promote reforms. This is urgently needed to put the country on a more solid democratic path to tackle global challenges, including migrations and climate change. 

Current Dynamics- Myanmar Actors and International Response

The 1 February military coup in Myanmar and subsequent arrests among senior civilian leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) including Aung San Suu Kyi did not come as a complete surprise. After the military- affiliated USDP Party voiced misgivings since November 2020, the military leadership warned of a possible coup in late January. Crisis talks with NLD and the military on 28 January were not successful. At the core were unsubstantiated election fraud allegations just before the newly elected parliament was convened. NLD increased its majority compared to the 2015 election results.

For the Myanmar military with guaranteed 25% of seats in parliament, three senior cabinet positions and one vice presidency under the constitutional arrangement since 2008, there was much at stake. Myanmar’s military- industrial and trading complex is vast and protecting their investments had become urgent, in view of a possible redrawing of the constitution. Abolishing privileges for the military might expose them to international prosecution after retirement. The military established a one-year state of emergency in preparation for a re-run of the last elections. Internet services were ordered to close Facebook and other online messaging up until last weekend. Yangon International Airport was closed for a day until regional flights resumed.

Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing became the facto national leader; he has a reputation for problem solving and experts assess he has no intention to curb Myanmar’s economic progress. Most of the new cabinet members are in fact civil servants and not military leaders as in the 1980s (Myanmar Confronts New Uncertainties, China Daily, Global Weekly Edition 5-11 February 2021).Civil society in Myanmar was stunned by the coup which has remained bloodless. After early local discontent, mass demonstrations followed over the weekend and on Monday 5 February in Yangon, the capital of Naypyidaw and other urban centers. However, mostof the detained regional and state ministers were released by 5 February.

 International response was swift, and the EU as well as western capitals issued declarations against the coup. Despite internal wrangling and objections from China, the UN Security Council was relatively quick in pronouncing itself on Myanmar. China stressed that the international community should “create a sound external environment for Myanmar to properly resolve the differences.” The Council’s 4 February media statement called for respect of democratic principles and avoiding violence as well as releasing the detainees. so the constitutional order could be restored. Yet the Council avoided a condemnation of the coup and instead demanded that the constitutional order should be respected. Myanmar’s former colonial power (the UK) presided over the Security Council session. UN SG Guterres was frank in denouncing the coup as “absolutely unacceptable” and noting all firm intention to reverse the coup.

The US led international reactions threatening possible sanctions and blocking direct assistance to the government on 3 February, which was a notable policy departure from the Trump Administration. President Biden highlighted the Myanmar coup in his first major foreign policy speech at the U.S. State Department on 4 February, promising to hold the military accountable.

Democratic Pause or Rollback of Reforms?

Examining the country’s trajectory since the ground-breaking 2011 elections and opening from the military dictatorship holds clues for further evolution of the coup. International actors face a dilemma: strong opposition to the coup might drive the military and protestors into a spiral of violence which has potential for another repression like the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007 where thousands of lives were lost. Analysts based in the region see Myanmar backsliding several decades and gains in democratic transition erased.

Despite economic engagement and foreign investments over the last decade, Myanmar has suffered from contradictions and incomplete democratization. Commentators see the coup as confirmation that the 2008 power sharing deal between civilians and the military was never very solid. The legacy of 50 years in political roles for the armed forces- beginning with Aung San Suu Kyi herself as daughter of the independence leader general who was assassinated in 1948- shows that civilian- military relations are complex and still evolving. Therefore dialogue among the political contenders is highly valuable, which requires significant investments and patience.

The two greatest recent challenges for reigning in military power were evident in the violent campaigns against ethnic minorities. First, military anti-terror sweeps in northern Rakhine State against Muslim stateless residents (described as “Rohingya” and anathema to the Myanmar Bamar ruling class) led to a huge population exodus in 2016/2017across the border into Bangladesh. Myanmar was facing international court action on allegations of genocide, which saw Aung San Suu Kyi standing in defense of the authorities at the International Court of Justice. While some steps were taken to try to enable returns and reintegration, those processes remained largely untested.

Second, the fragile peace talks with armed ethnic militias in several states of Myanmar started to fizzle out in 2018/2019.Rebels adopted more mobile tactics to confront the military in known hotspots but also in Rakhine, causing frustrated in the armed forces. The Myanmar Peace Center, established in 2013 with support from the Norway-led Peace Support Donor Group, closed after three years. Its secretariat services were formally incorporated into a National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) while innovative dialogues received less attention. Official claims from the military that most rebel groups were pacified and cooperating rang increasingly hollow. These were ominous signs that the military was asserting itself as in previous decades. After the coup,return to open warfare with ethnic rebel movements is seen as one of the greatest possible aftershocks of the coup. In both developments, the military was not pushed to undergo deeper reforms and civilian oversight, or use military justice effectively against human rights violators, with few exceptions. This illustrated the pervasive challenges in maintaining inclusive political dialogue. Western actors mistakenly believed that professional military training and capacity building could align the military more with civilian rule. 

Thailand Paradigm and Geopolitical Weight of China

In neighboring Thailand, which hosts many refugees from neighboring Myanmar in camps, military intervention has a long tradition in supporting the monarchy against civilian rule. Demands for constitutional monarchy from a grass-roots movement led by young activists are a new phenomenon. Regional reactions to the coup in  Myanmar were muted, with the notable exception of Singapore and Malaysia as well as Indonesia. The combination of conservative political rule with relative economic liberalism and unified national trends seen in Thailand is an appealing model for the transition in Myanmar. It could help moderate the military behavior after Myanmar’s coup.It is assessed that Myanmar’s main economic partners will most likely adopt a “wait and see” approach before they start to reach out again and deal with the junta-led government.

China’s Yunnan province borders Myanmar where Chin State has been one of the more recent flashpoints in rebel activity. The area is critically important for China’s designs in bringing Myanmar into the ambit of the transcontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), through a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). This plan features a high-speed train link from China to the Indian Ocean, alongside gas projects/pipeline installations in coastal areas of Rakhine State.  China has also pursued

a mega-hydro project (Myitsone north of Myitkyina) which was stalled in 2011 over environmental concerns. In addition, Chinese investors have snapped up a lot of land and real estate in the Yangon area, despite a prohibition on sales to foreign buyers.

China’s President Xi Yiping undertook a milestone visit to Myanmar in January 2020, where he signed 33 agreements and MoUs. The strategic value of Myanmar in these schemes was recently underscored by the visit of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in mid-January 2021- the highest ranking foreign official to arrive since November’s election. In military cooperation, China has taken a low-key approach with Myanmar. Some observers believe that the opening in 2011 provided just enough breathing space for Myanmar’s military to avoid over-dependency on China in the defense sector. India as Myanmar’s northwestern neighbor hosts refugees from the Christian Chin minority and a crackdown might prompt a larger influx of arrivals from Myanmar.

Role of ASEAN and EU: Joining Forces and Preparing for Global Challenges

Myanmar chaired the ASEAN regional group of states in Southeast Asia as a founding member in 2013, after having to abandon this role in 2007, due to peer pressure from ASEAN. Yet ASEAN had avoided a confrontational approach over the forced displacement from Rakhine State; the consensus principle in ASEAN prevents strong common positioning, putting regional cohesion as a top priority. There is no punitive, sanctions-based mechanism as in ECOWAS for West African States, despite an obligation to respect the ASEAN Charter. Accordingly, the current ASEAN chair Brunei appealed to respect ASEAN’s principles of rule of law, democracy and human rights. ASEAN encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar” (ASEAN Statement of 1 February 2020).

What has been missing is the joint thematic dialogue and support to Myanmar through ASEAN and the EU. Lady Catherine Ashton, the first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, had a significant role as EU Envoy for Myanmar. A well-resourced European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) was opened in Yangon in 2014 to serve as a voice of European businesses in Myanmar. The EU was in fact one of the first actors to respond to the country’s political opening, suspending in April 2012 its restrictive measures except for the arms embargo.

Since Myanmar is vulnerable to climate change, especially in the coastal regions and the large Irrawaddy Delta, collective expertise for humanitarian disaster preparedness, relief and prevention of natural hazards is an entry point for dialogue. The experience of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 has left deep scars in the country and productive areas. Therefore making Myanmar fit for withstanding even greater climatic change and extreme weather events in the future is a shared interest for the country’s leadership. Expertise in navigating politically complex situations exists in ASEAN where non-traditional security threats are systematically studied at a dedicated institute in the RSIS School of Singapore.

Greater connectivity and access to innovation is possible with business partners from Europe where the “Green Deal” has heralded a re-tooling of many industries to exit faster from the economic slump caused by the Pandemic to realize ambitious emissions targets by 2030. Myanmar has already shown initiative in flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections from late 2020 into early 2021, due to concerted local sensitization campaigns, e.g. in the “Paung Sie” Facility joint partnership with 50 civil society partners (see: Paung Sie Facility Leaflet, October 2020), and through immigration controls. Similar resourcefulness can promote larger modernization, digitalization and green infrastructure schemes. The NLD already had a response and recovery plan to deal with medium and long-term challenges of the Pandemic, providing some common ground in conciliation with the military.

Myanmar’s Geopolitical and Global Pivot

While the global US- China relations are undergoing a rebalancing, Myanmar offers a convenient middle ground for the global powers to work with the middle powers and regional alliances such as EU and ASEAN. It should not be forgotten that an open, fully fledged democratic Myanmar next door to China will remain a thorn in the side for China, even though the emerging superpower is projecting itself elsewhere into the ASEAN and global arena.

In this wider perspective, the reactions to the military coup in Myanmar will be decisive for shaping the future diplomatic and geo-economic playing field. With foresight and a dose of realism, the recent events can still be turned into an advantage, requiring a substantial increase in inter-regional joint dialogue as well as support to domestic peace and reconciliation efforts in Myanmar. EU and ASEAN but also the UN should scale up the information flow on situational awareness and wield sanctions tools judiciously. There is a risk that more punitive approaches could drive Myanmar deeper into the Chinese sphere of influence once again.  

Matthias E Leitner, Senior Adviser/ International Coordinator with ICSVE Center Washington, DC (USA), Berlin-based Matthias Ernst LEITNER has over 20 years’ experience in international peace and security, mainly in UN and regional peace operations across Africa and in the Middle East. His professional focus is on governance/ accountability, national dialogues and coalition building as well as on project development for preventing violent extremism and radicalization. Mr. Leitner has held senior management positions with UN Special Envoy Offices. His ongoing interest is in UN reforms, peacebuilding and innovative approaches for resilience to the COVID-19 Pandemic. His academic background from Bonn and Oxford Universities is in languages and history.

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Southeast Asia

Anti-Coup Stir: Women Take Over the Reins of Protests in Myanmar

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Ousting of a female civilian leader through a military coup and the declaration of a year-long emergency, in the early hours of February 1st has led thousands of protesters to turn out in the streets of Myanmar. However, the military has lashed out with a violent crack-down killing at least 61 non-violent protesters since the coup. As reported by Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N special envoy for Myanmar that the police and the military killed an additional 38 protesters on March 4th.

These extrajudicial killings also include children and women. Highlighted by the death of a 20-year old Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head by the violent security forces. Rights advocates have scathingly attacked these adversities. Michelle Bachelet, a top Human Rights officer at the U.N remarked that “Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters”, that “it is abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against the peaceful protesters”.

Women are at the forefront of this anti-coup movement and have sent out powerful rebuke to the military. With hundreds of thousands of women representing teachers, medical workers, garment workers and also house-wives taking over the streets. As reported by the International Civil society Action Network (ICAN) that, Mye Sabe Phyu, Director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN) and the member of Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) has sent out a strong message saying “we are resisting the coup and will fight back until we die’. GEN and WASL are some of the leading organisations working towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in Myanmar. Its members, most of them consisting of women have increasingly taken part in the protests. However, the systematic crackdown upon the civil society members has halted their work. To which these women activists have refuted telling Open Democracy in an interview that such terrorising would not deter them and that their revolution is “unstoppable”.

Women have always been afoot calling out the junta for trampling upon the democratic voices in the state. They have often challenged the imposition of the patriarchal order that has suppressed their voices for more than half a century. “Women has never been the military agenda. In their view, the role of women is to preserve culture and religion.” explained Phyuin an interview with Open Democracy. She further added that “Women are standing at the front leading the protests, which makes us proud.”

Female medical volunteers have patrolled the streets of Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and other major cities tending the wounded and dying protesters. A 28-year-old medical doctor told the New York Times, “young women are now leading the protests because we have a maternal nature and we cannot let the next generation be destroyed”. She also said, “We do not care about our lives. We care about our future generations.”

A passion has ignited in the citizens of Myanmar across cultures and religions. Hence, despite the brutality leashed by the military, the movement has become far more diverse. Where women are playing an essential role in strategizing and engaging people in a peaceful protest across the country.

Burmese Women’s Organisation, as one of the leading civil society organisations, is keeping vigilance over the fake news spreading and any sort of torture, sexual violence or harassment against the protesting women. Tin Tin Nyo, a veteran women’s activist and member of the Organisation, who has been supporting and leading the demonstrations. Told in an interview with Open Democracy that the participation of women from all the walks of life, especially of young women is unprecedented.  More than 50% of the disobedience members are women, who regardless of the risks are determined to abolish the coup.

The rule of the junta in Myanmar reveals a perilous side of the situation of women in the country. They consist of more than half of the population yet, their voices are ignored and their political participation and representation in the decision-making process are minimal. The civilian government by the National League for Democracy, though led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, was majorly dominated by men, most of them sitting in powerful positions. Hence, with the resumption of military rule women has the most loose. As the five years of regime of a civilian government led by a woman leader, had given hope to half of the population of the country, which otherwise was considered docile.

The nation-wide stir thus has given women an opportunity to display their valorous stand against the discrimination faced by them at the hands of the military. They have taken over the reins of the protests actively demonstrating, and engaging in creative and yet peaceful ways of organising resistance.

The movement is becoming more unified each day with robust support from women and civil society organisations working for their cause. These organisations are reinforcing local civilians and are writing to various international institutions for assistance. As reported by the International Civil society Action Network(ICAN) that the Gender Equality Network (GEN) along with locals and other women’s activist’s network has written an open letter for the ASEAN Chair, Brunei and has also sought support from Indonesian Embassy.

Dr Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese American who served as a lieutenant colonel in United States Army, while speaking to New York Times said “Even though these are dark days and my heart breaks with all the images of bloodshed. I’m more optimistic because I see women on the street”. She further added that “In this context, I put my money on the women. They are unarmed but are the true warriors.”

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Protecting National Sovereignty In the Current globalization context

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National sovereignty is an inseparable legal and political attribute of each state. National independence associated with national sovereignty is now a global trend, especially in the current context of globalization, every nation, whether big or small, aspires to affirm their national values, such as the right to decide their social system, economy, development orientation, and the equality between countries in international life. However, this task has been facing numerous threats from different theories and actions from the world’s powers, despite the national sovereignty and national independence. Therefore, protecting national sovereignty in the context of globalization has become a top priority for countries in the world, especially middle powers and underdeveloped countries, including Vietnam.

Defending national sovereignty is the combination of organized actions of the entire political system and citizens, led by specialized forces, under the leadership of the ruling party, the centralized and unified administration and direction from the State,in order to implement and secure national sovereignty, against all acts of violation of national sovereignty recognized by international law, as specified in national law.

Globalization is going on rapidly and intensively  on a worldwide scale, countries are promoting integration, ina wide range of fields and complex scales. This process offers numerous opportunities but also creates unpredictable challenges in ensuring national sovereignty, independence and security. Therefore, it is vital to identify the following two basic issues: First, national sovereignty is ultimate, can not be shared or demonstrated while resolving domestic or foreign affairs; there has never been and will not be a global subject above nations, which completely abolishes the national sovereignty and peoples; Second, protecting sovereignty does not mean isolation from the world, yet countries need to effectively defend their sovereignty while opening their gates to integrate with the world; international integration is for better protection of sovereignty. In this relationship, there is hardly any room for sacrifice or mutual limitation.

The main contents of protecting national sovereignty in the globalization context need comprehensive consideration in all fields of social life: Regarding politics and diplomacy, through group decisions, or at least a joint agreement by a group of influential states, international community may initiated advocate to pressurize or directly interfere in a certain country’s domestic affairs which other countries consider incorrect yet unable to defend. Reasons for these interventions are diverse, even non-objective yet set up for the purpose of interfering and violating national sovereignty and other countries’ sovereignty protection. For instance, in2011 Resolution 1973 of United Nations Security Council on “establishing no-flight zones” imposed on Libya was passed after 13 members of the United Nations Security Council approved, Russia and China abstained. This resolution has caused Libya’s sovereignty to be almost eliminated during the time of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes, on the grounds of implementing the 1973 Resolution.

Regarding nationalism, in some regions of the world, despite the fact that fights for national independence or request to separat one part of its territory into an independent state still persist, this is not the core issue in nationalism. The more central and common one is national sovereignty and real equality between peoples in globalization context. The reason is although most countries and peoples are now independent by name, for many, that independence is incomplete, unstable and superficial, both in economics and national sovereignty and security. Dozens of wars in the late twentieth century under the name of defending human rights, yet in fact to punish nations which refused to follow the “leadership stick” were evident examples.

In economics, economic rights, especially the right to make policies and laws, to control and regulate resources, manage production, business, import and export activities of developing countries are under strong influence and bound of international institutions, by powerful countries, transnational organizations. Various laws of the market, currencies, and global information entitle seemingly imperative power to governments, at least indispensable factors that cannot be ignored unless leaving the protection of sovereignty and national interests in passive state.

Economy and politics have a dialectic, dominant and interactive relationship in which economics decides politics and politics creates influence on economy. Economic dependence will result in political dependence. Accordingly, it can be interpreted that fighting for rights and economic independence is and will be the crucial and important means of struggle. This is a challengingand complicated struggle because it is unlikely to close the economy and stand out of globalization; on the contrary, participating in globalization is an essential path to develop and protect the national interests. The most decisive issue is each country needs to actively outline their integration path, in which they must be consistent in the independence of national development path and strategy, the autonomy and self-control of development timeline, development sectors and relation partners.

Regarding culture and society, the protection of national sovereignty should go side by side with protecting national cultural identity, to avoid cultural invasion, as a remote and early defense measure against foreign intervention. Globalization entails extensive exchange between cultures and civilizations. If this process takes place naturally and voluntarily, national sovereignty is not violated. However, acquiring unsuitable and incompatible foreign cultural trends and unselectively adapting cultures and lifestyles may erode local cultural values, which means the loss of vital foundations of national sovereignty.

Therefore, it is compulsory to actively identify and be vigilant to imperial cultural schemes and policies, not to underestimate cultural security, even though cultural-ideology protection is not a simple task in the trend of globalization and international integration – an evitable path for all countries.

Protecting sovereignty in any field: politics, culture, economics, national defense, security and foreign affairs should identify its specific subjects aswell as appropriate strategies and plans. Acts of violating national sovereignty are not only carried out by the state but also by non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and foreign individuals. The subject can infringe sovereignty via military – security activities, and non-military activities, both by “hard power and soft power”. Therefore, the defense of sovereignty should not only be carried out by armed measures but also by non-military ones; should be a solid and flexible combination between management and protection, cooperation and fights in all fields.

It can be affirmed that globalization has been and will be an objective trend that offers both opportunities and challenges to mankind, all countries should sooner or later participate in this common trend of our contemporary world. And in this trend, the most pressing and challenging task of developing countries is to protect national independence, sovereignty and national interests from the negative effects that globalization may bring about. More than ever, countries need to actively identify their relevant international issues, in order to outline timely and appropriate policies on the basis of identifying the duality and domination of capital powers during the process of globalization. In addition to boosting cooperation and economic development with foreign ones, countries must constantly be vigilant to work on comprehensive and resilient struggle to defend themselves against the ever-diminishing pressure of imperialism.

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Calibrating Vietnam’s role in ASEAN in 2021

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Vietnam handed over the ASEAN chairmanship baton to Brunei in November 2020, but at the same time also handed over the agenda for the 2021 summit. During the informal ministerial meeting which was convened on March 2, 2021 through web conference discussions were held so as to implement the ASEAN community vision 2025 as well as making commitments with regard to ASEAN initiatives related to COVID-19 pandemic.

The agenda of Brunei is also varied with regard to improving ASEAN’s external relations as well as addressing regional security issues which are challenging as well as complex. The military coup in Myanmar is one thing which has really galvanized the support from different ASEAN member States. It is expected that the Myanmar return to democracy would be a very pressing problem for many member states. It is also reiterated during the Chairperson’s statement on the ASEAN informal meeting where it has buttressed that political stability in the Southeast Asian nations is critical.

In the statement, the new Chair of ASEAN also referred to the issue of unity, centrality and maintaining the relevance of the organization to address common security challenges. He also talked about the principles which have been addressed in the ASEAN charter and interestingly reference has been made with regard to democracy and constitutional government. In fact, in the post COVID – 19 scenario, it is expected that addressing this challenge through collective organizational response as well as under taking all those initiatives which have beenoutlined during the last year summit under the chairmanship of Vietnam. The implementation plan of the ASEAN’s organization comprehensive recovery framework needs to be evaluated and should be put into practice in a more time bound manner.

Further, within Southeast Asia activating travel corridors, and integrating the medical emergencies response teams within the region would be vital. The issue of ASEAN regional reserve of medical supplies related to public health emergencies and better interaction between the medical professionals would help in addressing the future pandemics in a better way. ASEAN’s centrality and unity has been seen under stress in recent times. Therefore, the new chair Brunei will have to strengthen existing mechanisms to promote trust and confidence among the members. Also, many dialogue partners have been highlighting this issue of freedom of navigation in the Indo- Pacific region. ASEAN has already outlined its outlook related to Indo- Pacific and rationalising their expectations with dialogue partners. The evolving situation in Korean Peninsula is also of concern for the ASEAN countries as many have strong trade links with the Republic of Korea. In the informal meeting issues such as the developments in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees, and repatriation process for displaced persons in the Rakhine state were highlighted.

Under the chairmanship of Vietnam last year, ASEAN has been able to address the repercussions due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, and has also roped in the US for providing financial aid and material assistance for the ASEAN countries. The US had committed to more than US $ 87 million for providing medicines, emergency healthcare equipment, and material assistance to combat the pandemic in Southeast Asia. The proposal which was pondered upon in the year 2020 has been with regard to US-ASEAN smart cities partnership. This is expected to bring about better transportation, connectivity and water management in targeted cities in the Southeast Asian region. Also, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has outlined new programmes and has proposed a programme which will help this region in modernising technology and engineering institutes as well as promoting this region as a technological hub.

Brunei which has been very cautious in making any comments related to South China Sea will have to steer the organisation to address this huge issue related to the sovereignty claims of China in the contested region. Similarly, issues related to dams on Mekong River, and implementing the ASEAN charter and the agreement related to regional comprehensive economic partnership needs to be rationalized. In fact, during the ASEAN meetings which were held last year under the chairmanship of Vietnam, it was stated that it is important to develop consensus on common protocols related to public health emergencies. Even decisions were taken with regard to developing coordination mechanisms related to medical research, providing of vaccines and undertaking social countermeasures against the COVID- 19 pandemic.

While evaluating the reports related to the blueprint for the ASEAN community in 2020, it was stated that there is a need for time bound discussions and negotiations so that the ASEAN community process could be completed in time. Few other issues which were highlighted and discussed during the last year meetings such as digital connectivity, food security, renewable energy, and improving financial stability and market access across ASEAN would be discussed again in the meeting in March and April in Brunei. During the discussions last year, it was also stated that there is need for concluding a Code of Conduct (CoC)in the South China Sea in an agreed time frame which should adhere to the international law and should outline the punitive action against the recalcitrant countries which become signatories to the CoC.

The growing militarisation in South China Sea specially because of US and China tensions has also compelled many claimant countries to take note of the developments and solicit support from the international community. Vietnam has been assiduously successful ingalvanising international support related to South China Sea, and has asked many of the European nations as well as the US to pressurise China to maintain peace and tranquility in the South China Sea. The expectations for the current chair Brunei will be high given the fact that it has been very categorical and cautious with regard to outlining it statement related to the contentious subjects. One critical aspect which will require better fund management an institutional support among the ASEAN member states would be related to public health emergencies, and also inoculating large population across Southeast Asia. Selecting the most effective vaccine among many would be another arduous task.  It would be interesting to note that how in Brunei the issues related to gender equality, women empowerment would be addressed given the fact that it is a conservative Muslim society.

Timor Leste has been requesting for ASEAN membership for quite a long, and it would be prudent to at least induct the country as an observer. It would require the ASEAN countries to handhold the Timor Leste in paving the way for its full-fledged membership but it is also important that the capacities with regard to undertaking so many meetings and participation in as a network would require better management as well as development of human resources that can undertake this kind of intensive meetings and workshops related to the region itself. The agenda which have been started in the last year needs continued support and also careful handling so that the issues related to the US, and ASEAN community building as well as other security challenges of the regional and international powers could be addressed without annoying one and while matching each power so that ASEAN remain central to the larger regional security perspective. Vietnam has given ideas and even new proposals, it would have to direct narrative and discourse to logical conclusions in the year 2021.

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