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Southeast Asia

The Role ASEAN Could Have Played in the Myanmar Coup

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photo: Wikipedia

Authors: Harsh Mahaseth and Aryan Tulsyan*

The ASEAN’s political strategy has suffered from incoherence because ASEAN and its member states have remained more concerned with creating a unified position against external pressure than on developing a single policy towards Myanmar.The ASEAN Way directs the member states to refrain from all sorts of interventions, including political measures. For example, if the admission of a state into a regional or international organisation is made dependent upon certain terms and conditions, which fall within the competence of the state, and are not stated in the constitutive act of the organisation, could be considered as an unlawful intervention into the State’s political sphere. The policy of the member states to “refrain from making the domestic political systems of a State and the political styles of government a basis for deciding their membership in ASEAN” is one of the fundamental implications of the ASEAN Way. Thus, abiding by the non-intervention principles of the ASEAN, democracy cannot be forced into Myanmar. The ASEAN Way or the policy of non-intervention is undoubtedly a ‘part and parcel of customary international law’. Through the International Court of Justice’s verdict in the Nicaragua case, it can be inferred that although the non-intervention policies are legally enforceable, as the non-intervention policies are codified under various ASEAN documents like the Bangkok Declaration, the Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) Declaration, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, slight deviations do not destroy its legally binding character, if they are accompanied by a strong opinio juris sive necessitatis. For example, the Chair of the ASEAN Standing Committee had expressed ‘revulsion’ at the Myanmar junta’s violent suppression of protesters in September 2007. Constructive engagement, rather than ostracism, is a more practical solution in the case of Myanmar, as a military regime which is determined to isolate its people from foreign influence is present in the nation.

Legal Issues

The legal grounds used by the junta to justify the coup was invoking section 417 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008). Section 417 allows the declaration of an emergency if there is sufficient reason for the ‘disintegration of the Union or the national solidarity’ or ‘loss of sovereignty’. The junta alleged a large-scale voter fraud concerning the November 2020 elections, and accused the Union Election Commission of being unwilling to investigate, or actively colluding in it. However, the allegations were not backed by evidence, and even if they were, the question of ‘disintegration of the Union’ or ‘loss of sovereignty’ would be debatable. Furthermore, Section 418 (a) states that the President is to sanction the emergency by transferring control of the Union to the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services, General Min Aung Hlaing in this case. Yet, it was not President Win Myint who declared the emergency, but the newly appointed vice president, retired general Myint Swe of the USDP, after President Win Myint was detained and forced to relinquish his position. Thus, the military coup in Myanmar was unconstitutional.

Article 6(2)(c) and 6(2)(d) of the Charter of the Association of South East Asian Nations bases the admission of States into the organisation on the condition that they would be abiding by the Charter, would be able as well as willing to carry out the obligations of the Membership. Myanmar’s deviation from the democratic system violates the Preamble of The Charter, along with Sections 1(4), 1(7) and 2(2)(h). It has been argued that since Myanmar ratified this Charter on July 18, 2008, the ASEAN would be justified in placing sanctions upon nations who violate the Charter. However, imposing sanctions on Myanmar would cause an acceleration of Chinese influence in the country, as China already has free economic reign over the country. The ASEAN Charter has been termed as an ‘aspirational document’, as it promotes certain principles and values, but leaves the implementation and enforcement in the hands of the member states. Furthermore, the ASEAN could aid by instituting channels for dialogue and negotiations between the civilians and the Tadmadaw, and the existence of the ASEAN Way potentially opens the doors to backchannel negotiations with both the sides.

Human Rights and Refugee Issue

Myanmar already has a severe issue pertaining to the Rohingyas, and the military coup is going to stir up this debacle. Although several countries were open to refugees, yet, as the influx rose, additional refugees were denied, and some countries, like Thailand, were forced to repatriate the refugees. In order to safeguard human rights, the ASEAN had created the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, but Myanmar was against the recommendation of an enforceable human rights body, and in turn suggested the creation of a non-binding commission on human rights. Myanmar also made the ASEAN leaders withdraw their invitation to the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to address the Summit relating to the concerns in Myanmar. Given the dismal human rights situation in Myanmar due to the coup, coupled with the humanitarian problem associated with the Rohingya, the Myanmar case should not be treated by ASEAN and its member states as an “internal or domestic affair,” but rather as a regional concern if not an international quandary that needs ASEAN’s and the international community’s attention.


 Prior to 2012, ASEAN had an insignificant role in the regional elections of its member states, and were limited to analysis of reports, but this changed in the case of Myanmar where the ASEAN took an active role in the national elections. ASEAN’s first involvement in the regional elections were in 2010 when the ASEAN urged the junta in power to conduct free and fair elections, a proposal which was rejected by the junta. On 20th March 2012, Myanmar President Thein Sein, on the suggestion of former ASEAN Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan, invited the ASEAN Secretariat, the ASEAN Member States, the European Union as well as the United States to send observer teams to Myanmar to witness and monitor the April 2012 by-elections in the country. The success of ASEAN’s observation of the 2012 elections in Myanmar can be cited as an evidence which supports the success of the force of ‘collective peer pressure’ and its judicial application at the appropriate stress points as a furtherance of the ASEAN Way. The ASEAN’s presence in the 2020 general elections in Myanmar could have legitimized the electoral process, and it could have been used to undercut the Tatmadaw’s claim of voter fraud. The ASEAN could use these non-coercive and low-degree tools of intervention to restore democracy in Myanmar, one such tool being the observation of elections that would supposedly be conducted by the Tatmadaw after the emergency.

The Way Forward: What ASEAN Should Do

ASEAN’s influence in Myanmar’s transition to democracy has been considered as negligible. ASEAN had not set democracy as a condition for its membership, as there were living examples of countries like the Brunei Darussalam, which is an absolute sultanate, and Laos and Vietnam, which are communist states. ASEAN did play two roles in accelerating Myanmar’s transition to democracy. Firstly, the 2014 chairmanship of ASEAN awarded to Myanmar in 2011 provided its reformist government with credibility at a crucial time in the country’s transition to democracy. Secondly, ASEAN acted as a reference group for Myanmar, aiding in its search for models of democratic institutions, as ASEAN is a group of states of proximity, which share geography, histories of colonialism, conflict and difficult (in some cases, incomplete) transitions to democracy.

ASEAN must treat the situation in Myanmar as a matter of utmost urgency, in order to prevent the recurrence of the spill-over effects that political crisis could have on the neighbouring countries. Cross border repercussions would rise if a domestic crisis remained to be unresolved before it rises to unprecedented levels, as evident in the 1988 student protests (“8888 uprising”) and the May 1990 elections. The ASEAN should play an active role in restoring order in Myanmar, and it cannot sit on the fence like it did during the 2014 Thai coup. The ASEAN could constitute a commission to look into the alleged voter fraud, a commission composed of members elected by mutual consensus from both parties to the dispute. Unpopular views like the suspension of Myanmar from the ASEAN has been a part of the popular debate as well, and Bilahari Kausikan, a former senior diplomat from Singapore has even gone on record to suggest that membership in ASEAN should not be taken as a given but ought to be revoked if and when member states behave in ways detrimental to the collective values and interests of the organisation. The military coup is a clear indicator that the ASEAN cannot stick to the non-intervention policy by avoiding punitive actions against member states, and avoid a damage to its reputation at an international level at the same time.

*Aryan Tulsyan is a Law Student at Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.

Harsh Mahaseth is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean (Academic Affairs) at Jindal Global Law School, and a Senior Research Analyst at the Nehginpao Kipgen Center for Southeast Asian Studies, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.

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Southeast Asia

China’s Stranglehold on South East Asia: Shaping the Future of the Region

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A global order characterized by multiplexity entails a diverse array of state and non-state actors actively influencing the norms of governance according to their distinct cultural perspectives. In stark contrast, a hegemonic world order is marked by the dominance of a single power that propagates a uniform narrative. China’s ambitious pursuit of hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly Southeast Asia, faces a formidable hurdle due to its unsophisticated and unsubtle approach to international relations.

Beijing’s diplomatic, economic, and military initiatives over the past ten years and beyond have undeniably increased China’s influence throughout Asia. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China’s relations with Russia, as well as those with developing nations of Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Japan, have reached an all-time high. This expansion of Beijing’s influence and Asia’s response to Chinese initiatives are inescapable in the long run. Undoubtedly, China is the dominant nation in continental Asia, and it has a thriving economy that, while competing with those of other Asian nations, also drives overall economic growth.

However, to ostensibly stop China from becoming a regional hegemon, the United States and its Asian allies seek to maintain a delicate balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. They worry that Beijing will gradually persuade its neighbors to turn away from the United States, accept Chinese preeminence, and abide by Beijing’s preferences in key foreign policy decisions. Thus, a dominant power wielding its power in this way makes itself less vulnerable to blockades and other forms of coercion while also gaining the respect of weaker states within its sphere of influence, even in the absence of direct rule. The lack of local threats makes it easier for the regional hegemon, should the need or desire arise, to project power into other global domains. Furthermore, despite being a key component of hegemonic ordering, China’s increased economic and financial power in South Asia has not yet resulted in the creation of a regional structure that is in line with its own security, economic and ideological interests.

In particular, India has surpassed China in both size and proportion of young people due to its rapidly growing economy and population. Significant increases in defense spending show that many of China’s neighboring countries are actively engaged in vigorous balance efforts. In addition to the United States, other nations, such as Australia, India, and Japan, are working together. These countries will probably respond with even more resolute measures as their worries about Chinese hegemony grow.

Despite that, South Asia has historically rarely been a focus of American efforts to establish global hegemony. However, under Xi’s leadership, China has increasingly manipulated its role as a regional benefactor, showing a tendency to use force and take sides, particularly in relation to India’s territorial disputes with its neighboring states. The goal of China’s engagement policy is to maintain its strategic advantage over maritime communication routes. This strategy has forced the region into a precarious balance in which economic cooperation and strategic implications must be carefully navigated. The region has shown assertiveness on a few issues and has chosen to co-opt each other’s interests despite China’s materially inferior capabilities.

Due to its lack of cultural legitimacy as a superpower and its preference for extensive economic activism, China’s pretended win-win scenario for Asia as a whole has been called into question. As they interact with the prevailing norms at various levels of state and society, as well as state and non-state actors, the sectors that support China’s aspirations for hegemonic dominance are constantly contested, opposed, renegotiated, and reproduced. Furthermore, China’s rise has unquestionably been imperative to maintain global economic growth, with its market playing an important role.

In a world where our omnipotence in all fields is no longer absolute, Americans will face difficult adaptation challenges. We can adapt to change, though, because we have a flexible and resilient nature. Both the United States and China will continue to pursue their respective national interests as they see fit. In summary, since multiple countries, not just the US or China will participate in power sharing, the future world will likely be more complex than the past and will be characterized by increased “democratization.” There will be numerous opportunities for nations with reliable ties to both Beijing and Washington to control their level of involvement in international affairs. There shall be no dominant force and there shall be no such thing as a “G-2”.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesian Media Perception of China After Brokering Saudi-Iran Peaceful Restoration

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In some degree, we have agreement that regional instability in the Middle East occurred as a result of the reckless US strategic acts thus far. Libya and Iraq invasions have created a chaotic environment for the region everywhere, causing the Middle East not decent to live in. All the more, the long-drawn quarrel between Saudi and Iran which respectively represents the school of thought in Islam, namely Sunni and Shia, not only does harm to the two, but also stir a proxy war across the region. Such two conditions exacerbated the plight for people in Arab Peninsula. Therefore, the more US intervention declining in the Middle East, as well as the rapprochement between two sworn enemies of Saudi-Iran, the more it will open the chance to actualize peace in the region.

Perhaps, it is too early to discuss the impact of the Saudi-Iran restoration on Indonesian Muslims perception toward China at the current time. Meanwhile, it does not mean the event is improbable to have any effect at all since global political phenomena often spark a strong leverage on Indonesia’s domestic politics, especially for Muslim issues. The hottest one was the Indonesian public rejection of Israel’s football team arrival which eventually led to Indonesia being disqualified by FIFA as the host of the world cup under-20. The occurrence is the outcome of the long series of global political phenomena, in particular in the Middle East where Israel up to now still expanding its territorial settlement, seized some Palestinian regions that augment Indonesian public anger. Moreover, according to Anthony L. Smith (2003) findings, Indonesian Muslim society also will never forget how the anti-terrorism campaign launched by the US in the post of World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001, discrediting and containing anti-Islam stereotypes, renders ultimately anti-American backlash. Indonesian Muslim fury against the US, the study found, is often triggered by the US double standard in managing the conflict in many places where they deem the US has a bias in its foreign policy.

The facts provided above describe how magnificent the impact of Muslim-related issues on Indonesia is, not exceptional for Saudi-Iran relations. The Saudi-Iran relations recovery at least gives the consequence for Muslim adherents in Indonesia in some ways. Apart from shedding a lesson about how to deal with many cases of intra-domestic Muslim intolerance, the event also opens a new horizon upon the importance of China’s role in shaping a world to be more harmonious. China’s fruitful action as a peace mediator between Saudi and Iran has drawn the feeling of respect and impressed of Indonesian society. However, it is unprecedented imaginary the report regarding the reconciliation of the two sworn enemies in the Middle East surprised the whole public in the world. That is spectacular due to the sudden occasion that happened thanks to China’s benevolence. China is neither actor in the region nor a Muslim country nor a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Consequently, due to its significance, it inevitably, too gets a spot in Indonesian media coverage. As reported by Indonesia’s distinguished newspaper, Kompas, in its editorial titled “China’s Charm and Iran-Saudi Relations” (03/13/2023), in spite of China’s strategic interest in the Middle East, the pacification between the two camps due to China’s line of duty deserved to get applauded. Kompas is not partisan media and it becomes an important reference for the Indonesian public reading.

Kompas opened its news lead with the sentence “Global power could reconcile (hostile parties), not exploit” referring indirectly to US’ failed role in the Middle East so far. Conversely, China’s tacit approach without fanfare and non-invasive has actually been effective. In other parts of its news, Kompas praised China and mentioned that China is worthy to get appreciation by saying “Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to reopen diplomatic relations that had been broken since 2016. This was made possible because of China’s commendable kindness”. Unmitigatedly, Kompas also claims that the US has failed in the Middle East, “Liberal hegemony has failed.  China offers itself a simple, no-frills peace. China’s economic strength and Arab oil play a role, but peace is a core. Common prosperity could be achieved if there is a stable and peaceful situation. Salute to China”.

Kompas’ news coverage at one blow, albeit indirectly way, describes Muslim happiness inside the country. Indonesian Muslim congregations are enthusiastic to look forward a harmony in the Middle East. Engulfed the conflict in the Middle East often has an impact on Indonesia’s domestic political stability as abovementioned earlier. Thus, the apparent communion between Sunni and Shia, either Saudi or Iran, will also give a trickle-down outcome in intra-religious life, especially Islam in Indonesia. While well-known as benign and plural Muslim, undoubtedly in some cases Sunni-Shia hostility has oft occurred in Indonesia. Achieved current rapprochement between Saudi and Iran, least would open much maneuvering room for dialogue and learning for wrangled fringe in Indonesia to take advantage and similar steps.

Once again, thanks to China. Now, we are still waiting for another surprise upon China’s role in making the breakthrough to realize the comprehensive win-win solution between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. This expectation also has ever conveyed by Haedar Nashir, Chair of Muhammadiyah – one of the most distinguished moderate Muslim organizations in Indonesia besides Nahdlatul Ulama – it was addressed long-far before the Saudi-Iran rapprochement. He hoped China is actively engaged in freeing Palestine “We hope that China as a big country can defend the rights of the Palestinian people like other nations” (Republika, 2/2022).

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The Effectiveness of the Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Combating Child Labor in Indonesia

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Initiated by the United Nations regarding the importance of Human Rights in dealing with the protection of children’s rights, then giving birth Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1958. The formation of the convention on the rights of the child certainly formulates universal values ​​and legal norms as an umbrella for countries to protect children, therefore, this convention contains international agreements on human rights by inserting civil rights, economic rights , and cultural rights therein. There have been many who have signed the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the world, except Somalia. In the Convention on the Rights of the Child there are 54 regulatory articles. As a body that strives for child protection, are member states that ratify children’s rights consistent in seeking child protection and is this convention on the rights of the child effective for use (Human Rights, 1989)

Indonesia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Presidential Decree Number 36 of 1990. With the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Indonesia, legally Indonesia performs its obligations to fulfill and protect the basic rights of children. This ratification was strengthened by the Indonesian government by passing Law No. 23 of 2003 concerning child protection based on the rule of law to protect children. The convention on the rights of the child was ratified by Indonesia because the level of child welfare in Indonesia is very low. Like many child labor activities (Lestari, 2017).

Child Labor in Indonesia

The phenomenon of child labor also occurs in Indonesia. It is recorded that 9 out of 100 children aged 10-17 work in the informal sector and 88.77% of children who work are unpaid. Children who should get rights such as going to school and playing are forced to do work that should be done for adults. The problem of child labor is of particular concern to the world community. This is because the existence of child labor can have an impact on the health and welfare of these children (ILO, 2015).

Many child workers in Indonesia work in the agricultural sector. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) there are around 1.5 children working in oil palm, rubber, and tobacco plantations. The ILO also noted that East Java and Central Java are regions with the highest rates of child labor in Indonesia with an age range of 10-14 years. This has an impact on the health of these children, because working children have to inhale pesticides from prohibited fertilizers. In addition, there are many cases of children being injured as a result of being exposed to oil palm thorns (Kemenpppa, 2021).

Is the Convention Declaration on the Rights of the Child Effective in Addressing Child Labor in Indonesia?

There are still many problems regarding child labor in Indonesia, a big question is whether the convention on the rights of the child that has been ratified by Indonesia is applied to handling child labor. If you look at article 32 in the convention on the right of the child it states that:

1. The state must recognize and protect the rights of children from attempts at economic exploitation, such as work activities that endanger or interfere with the child’s education, endanger physical health, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,

2. The ratifying State shall take legislative, social and educational measures to ensure the application of this article with purpose having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties will in particular:

a) Determine the minimum age or minimum age to be accepted for work;

(b) Provide suitable hours and conditions of work;

(c) Establish appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective implementation of this article (Human Rights, 1989)

In fact, Indonesia cannot apply several regulations from the 54 articles in ratification. Indonesia seems to have forgotten the regulations contained in the article that has been explained. Indonesia has also legalized the law regarding child labor contained in Law No. 13 of 2003 article 68 concerning the prohibition to employ children. However, the law that is made well is from regulations declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as domestic laws. Until now child labor inIndonesia is still at 1.05 million working children. The regulation was made without any reports on whether the regulations and efforts made by the Indonesian government based on legal conventions on children’s rights were effective (Lestari, 2017).


There is a declaration Convention on the Rights of the Child actually very helpful to work on the rights of children around the world. The established legal laws are also very good. However, it turns out that the application of existing laws is not enough to be used optimally in Indonesia in dealing with child labor, even though Indonesia has also made statutory regulations that regulate child labor. There are suggestions that can be conveyed for the implementation of child protection, namely that the government should comply with the rules contained in the ratification article regarding children’s rights. Then there is synchronization of programs to fulfill the protection of children’s rights. Strengthen the law by conducting regular monitoring and evaluation of child protection programs. The Indonesian government must be firm in making improvements or changing programs in order to achieve child welfare. Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child must also strengthen regulations so that countries that commit violations are at least given strict sanctions.

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