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A Little Britain’s Reach Out To The Big Indo-Pacific



As the ideological schism in today’s world deepens, the leaders of the liberal camp are ramping up their activities in the regions they have not paid much attention to before. The main purpose of the military, diplomatic, and economic efforts of the Global West is to expand the sphere of influence, preventing their “non-democratic and revisionist” vis-à-vis, China and Russia, from building up their capabilities.

The Indo-Pacific, which provisionally includes all nations in the vast space stretching from the Horn of Africa to Oceania, has seen the fiercest and comprehensive confrontation. So far, the ideologists of the concept have failed to come up with any parameters that would congeal this space into a full-fledged region. Initially, in 2007, Tokyo believed the Indo-Pacific could be a window of opportunity to develop its infrastructure and guarantee the freedom of navigation. However, Washington picked up this term and reduced all the efforts solely to preserving its own global leadership.

The U.S. failure to implement its “pivot to Asia” and its lack of a clear alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative made Washington turn to its NATO allies for assistance. In 2018, France—a country that has overseas territories in the region—released its Indo-Pacific strategy. In 2020, Germany published its own principles of an Indo-Pacific policy, despite having been “pushed out” of Asia after World War I.

A Tilt to the East

In March 2021, Great Britain announced a new vision of itself in today’s world. “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy” is London’s plan for action amid the global crisis and with a view to overcoming the unfavorable consequences of the structural changes in the global order. The tilt towards the Indo-Pacific is one of the central elements in the new strategy. Clearly, the tilt has appeared under the influence of the U.S. with its initiative of building a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

British analysts believe that the vast spaces of the Indian and Pacific Oceans will play the key role in building a new world order and in forging “open societies” in the “competitive age.” The region remains the origin of transnational threats common for many states, and these threats cannot be handled unilaterally. Probably, as in the times of the empire, only the leaders of the progressive humanity are capable of handling such issues, even though they catalyze most of them. The authors of the report believe that London’s approach to the Indo-Pacific must be holistic, claiming that Great Britain is ready to be a European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence.

“White Elephants” of the Southern Seas

Despite the holism proclaimed, a year into the launch of the strategy evidences London’s clear emphasis on military aspects of security. This time, the Royal Navy is to epitomize the true freedom and openness. In April 2018, the UK established a permanent naval base east of the Suez, in Bahrain, Britain’s first in more than 40 years. Plans involve ensuring the Royal Navy’s presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans through six more “points”: scattering across Oman, Qatar, Kenya, Diego Garcia, Singapore, and Brunei.

In July 2021, Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21 comprising aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, destroyer HMS Defender, frigates HMS Richmond and HMS Kent, auxiliaries RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring, nuclear-powered submarine HMS Artful, destroyer USS The Sullivans, frigate HNLMS Evertsen) entered the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. Previously, the Royal Navy performed maneuvers in the East Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. In the course of the mission, HMS Defender entered Russian waters in the vicinity of Sevastopol during an allegedly “peaceful passage.” Subsequently, the group passed through the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca, heading on to the Pacific Ocean on a training mission for patrolling between Guam and Japan; the group also participated in drills with other navies and docked in foreign ports. The mission of the British part was 28 weeks long, making it the first protracted expedition of a British aircraft carrier in the recent history of the Royal Navy.

Drawing on the experience of CSG 21, the Admiralty announced its plans to permanently deploy a CSG on Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) missions in the Indo-Pacific. With that goal in view, the Royal Navy plans under Defence Command Paper 2021 to form a littoral response group by 2023. A similar unit was already operating in the Baltic and in the North Atlantic in 2021—it included amphibious transport dock HMS Albion, auxiliary landing ship dock RFA Mounts Bay, and frigate HMS Lancaster. The group is expected to spend eight months in the Indo-Pacific operating out of the base in Oman. Its objectives include training for operations amid natural disasters and crises and joint exercises with the Navies of the regional nations. It is possible that a CSG led by Britain’s second aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales and augmented by other forces will later be deployed in Asia on a permanent basis. The Prince has already earned a reputation of an unlucky ship as she spent nearly all of 2020 being repaired after a series of accidents. Another two accidents in the Royal Navy involving short vertical landing F-35B fighters took place in 2020–2021.

Through its naval presence, London expects to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. The emphasis is also on preventing criminal activities on the sea under “The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.” In September 2021, patrol vessels HMS Tamar and Spey traveled via the Panama Canal into the southern region of the Pacific Ocean on a five-year-long mission. Missions completed include delivering humanitarian aid to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and a tsunami as well as delivering vaccines to Pitcairn Island. There were also reports of detaining poachers in natural preserves and in protected areas. Patrol vessels, however, are not capable of carrying out battle missions since they do not carry missiles and have modest radio and electronic equipment.

Plans for boosting the Royal Navy’s capabilities in the Indo-Pacific envision deploying Inspiration-class forward-looking frigates, which are now designed for operations “east of Suez”, with the first frigate to be commissioned in 2025. Still, it is not yet clear where they will be based. Singapore was mentioned as a possible base—but, unwilling to provoke China, the nation may refuse to host British ships on a permanent basis. Brunei has the requisite capabilities, and it is already offering logistical support to the British, but the Chinese factor applies here as well. The Admiralty is debating the expediency of using the infrastructure of the U.S. forward-deployed Seventh Fleet in Japan, since it will damage the prestige of the British Navy in the region, making them less independent. Australia, the UK and the U.S. concluded a military-technical cooperation agreement (AUKUS), which opens up the possibility of using the bases on the “green continent.” However, even though Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison called upon U.S. and British submariners to act before Australia’s first own nuclear-powered vessel is commissioned (no earlier than 2035), London has not yet settled on a final decision.

White man’s burden (is no longer)

British foreign policy doctrines envision the U.S. as its most important strategic ally, while Russia is the most urgent threat. China, India and Japan are recognized as the three important powerhouses in the Indo-Pacific. The UK’s relations with each of the three, however, are viewed differently. Tokyo is seen as London’s closest strategic ally in Asia. New Delhi is more of a partner, while the option of cultivating relations with Beijing is virtually ruled out. “The Indo-Pacific Tilt” proclaimed by the Downing Street can be said to transpire fully within the vein of the U.S. foreign policy, and it misaligns with the real interests of the region’s leading states. The proclaimed “holistic” approach would appear to entail expanding diplomatic contacts, improving trade and economic cooperation, shaping a stable multilateral dialogue on key issues in security and development. Yet, all of these things have fallen by the wayside of the agenda pursued by the British leadership. There are bilateral formats in place such as the Malaysia–United Kingdom strategic dialogue or the Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Indonesia. Their effectiveness is low, though, especially if compared with similar efforts on the parts of China or India.

So far, the UK has had little success in building productive relations with the regional states and in comprehending the interests of the Asian states. A 2022 survey showed that only 1.8% of the respondents from ASEAN nations mentioned the UK as a promising trade partner, while 3.4% noted London’s role in building a world order based on rules and in improving the international law system.

Britain’s popularity in the Indo-Pacific is not going to increase if the country continues to prioritize military issues. The English-American duo only confirms the apprehension harbored by the nations of the region about mounting tensions and the risk of an armed conflict. Britain criticizes states of Southeast Asia for their inability to resolve the crisis in Myanmar and for disputes in the South China Sea. Yet, Britain does not propose any steps to protect the interests of ASEAN states.

The Lowy Institute believes that weak support for western values and a large number of states with authoritarian governance traditions is one of the risks Southeast Asia holds for the UK. This atmosphere is a breeding ground for nationalism based on anti-Western/anti-colonial rhetoric and it creates a favorable environment for bolstering China’s influence.

The Hollow Crown

The concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” assigns an important place to India as a regional counterbalance to China. At the same time, Washington and London cannot be said to have succeeded in using New Delhi to advance their own interests. In view of territorial disputes between India and China and considering a comprehensive rivalry between the Asian giants, the UK has clearly hoped for anti-Chinese support from its former “brightest jewel in the crown.”

May 2021 saw the signing of the UK–India agreement on enhancing trade partnership that was planned to develop into a free trade agreement and to help double the trade turnover by 2030. However, prospects are not too bright since India is interested in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), while the UK is leaning toward acceding to the rival format, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Additionally, the level of military connections between the UK and India remains fairly low, mutual visits are rare, there are virtually no sales of weapons and equipment, and bilateral exercises are mostly token affairs. The main irritants in India–UK relations are the close ties between London and Islamabad, New Delhi’s protectionist attitude to national companies, different views of the Kashmir problem, British criticism of Narendra Modi’s domestic and national policies, and the bitter colonial legacy. London does not support New Delhi in its desire to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Indian leadership has a very negative assessment of the opinion popular in the West that India is an “electoral autocracy” rather than the world’s largest democracy. The goals of “global Britain” largely boil down to acquiring unilateral privileges in trade and economic cooperation and to drawing India into the West’s comprehensive confrontation with China.

Boris Johnson visited India in April 2022 with a clear objective of convincing India’s leadership to steer a different—openly pro-Western—policy. Given that Narendra Modi’s government has proclaimed the Act East plan, Johnson’s intention appears slightly illogical. Nonetheless, it was openly suggested to New Delhi that it should reduce its dependency on Russian hydrocarbons and weapons. In exchange, the British Prime Minister promised a billion pounds in investment and 11,000 high-paying jobs for Indians in the UK. It should be noted that despite powerful political support from Washington, Johnson’s visit to India was fruitless. However, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited India immediately afterwards, bringing another portion of “carrots” in the shape of a partnership agreement with the EU.

Indian researchers note that the incumbent Indian government will not tolerate being lecture. Therefore, Western leaders should not be too pushy and should not make unacceptable proposals—in particular, when it comes to isolating Russia. For instance, the Indian Oil Corporation purchased 3 million barrels of oil in Russia in March, saying that “India’s total purchase of oil from Russia in a month is probably less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” In 2016–2020, New Delhi imported USD 6.6 billion worth of Russian weapons and military equipment, and India does not intend to stop.

Who Deters the Deterrents?

What is most concerning is the UK’s attitude to today’s China that is officially considered an authoritarian state with a growing power that significantly influences the geopolitical balance of power in today’s world. The “Global Britain” review ranks China as the greatest state threat and as a “systemic challenge” to security, prosperity, and the values that the West deems fundamental. London’s approach entails competition and counteraction where necessary and cooperation where possible.

British experts claim that the Western alliance should develop an effective response to Beijing’s unacceptable domestic and foreign political steps. Britain should not limit itself to flag-waving—instead, it should try to ensure its permanent military presence and continuous diplomatic and economic action. Plans envisage using the Five Eyes for this purpose as well as the FPDA defense arrangements between the five states (the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore).

It should be noted that British think tanks differ in their opinions on what London should do in Asia. For instance, Policy Exchange suggests developing connections with ASEAN as a partner in a dialogue in order to disseminate liberal values and cooperation models, as well as acceding to the CPTPP with a view to diminishing China’s influence in regional trade, and bolstering interactions within the FPDA. The Henry Jackson Society insists on a consistent deterrence of China and on curbing authoritarianism in the region.

However, the West’s anti-China rhetoric and the idea of mounting NATO presence in the Indo-Pacific meet with a critical reception from most Asian states. Only Japan may be counted as its sole unequivocal supporter. Southeast Asian states, as well as India and South Korea, prefer to bilaterally handle their own differences with China, without abandoning their cooperation with Beijing. The region quite highly values Russia’s potential as an effective intermediary in solving territorial disagreements in the Himalayas and the South China Sea and in handling peace issues on the Korean Peninsula. So far, there have been no examples of the UK exerting positive influence on regional security in East and South Asia.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, Assistant Professor at the International Relations Department of Far Eastern Federal University, RIAC Expert

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Southeast Asia

Myanmar: Crimes against humanity committed systematically



Crimes against humanity continue to be systematically committed in Myanmar, with ongoing conflicts severely impacting women and children, according to a UN report released on Tuesday.

The evidence gathered to date by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which is outlined in its Annual Report, indicates that sexual and gender-based crimes, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and crimes against children have been perpetrated by members of the security forces and armed groups.

Crimes against women and children are amongst the gravest international crimes, but they are also historically underreported and under-investigated,” said Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Mechanism.

Deep dive collection

Since starting operations three years ago, IIMM has collected more than three million pieces of information from almost 200 sources, according to the report.

These include interview statements, documentation, videos, photographs, geospatial imagery and social media material.

The report reveals that children in Myanmar have been tortured, conscripted and arbitrarily detained, including as proxies for their parents.

“Our team has dedicated expertise to ensure targeted outreach and investigations so that these crimes can ultimately be prosecuted,” said Mr. Koumjian.

‘Widespread’ violations

According to the publication, “there are ample indications that since the military takeover in February 2021, crimes have been committed in Myanmar on a scale and in a manner that constitutes a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population” and the nature of potential criminality is also expanding.

This includes the execution by Myanmar’s military of four people on 25 July 2022, which was carried out after the report was prepared.

Perpetrators of these crimes need to know that they cannot continue to act with impunity. We are collecting and preserving the evidence so that they will one day be held to account,” said Mr. Koumjian.


This latest analysis was released just two weeks before the five-year commemoration of clearance operations that resulted in the displacement of nearly one million Rohingya people.

The Rohingyas have faced decades of systematic discrimination, Statelessness and targeted violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Violent attacks in 2017 triggered an estimated 745,000 Rohingya, including more than 400,000 children, to flee to Bangladesh.

Most of the Rohingya who were deported or forcibly displaced at that time are still in camps for refugees or internally displaced persons.

“While the Rohingya consistently express their desire for a safe and dignified return to Myanmar, this will be very difficult to achieve unless there is accountability for the atrocities committed against them, including through prosecutions of the individuals most responsible for those crimes,” Mr. Koumjian explained.

“The continued plight of the Rohingya and the continuing violence in Myanmar illustrate the important role of the Mechanism to facilitate justice and accountability and help deter further atrocities.”

Dedicated work

Meanwhile, with the consent of its information sources, IIMM is sharing relevant evidence to support international justice proceedings currently underway at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Mechanism was created by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and other violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.

It aims to facilitate justice and accountability by preserving and organizing evidence and preparing case files for use in future prosecutions of those responsible in national, regional and international courts.

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Southeast Asia

Will Evolving Relation Between Arakan Army and NUG lead To Any Political Change in Myanmar?



photo: Wikipedia

On May 18, Myanmar’s Civilian National Unity Government (NUG) held an online meeting with the Arakan Army in the Rakhine (Arakan) state. Arakan Army Chief Major General Tuan Mrat Naing and his Deputy Brigadier General Neo Tun Aung spoke for about two hours with Foreign Minister Jin Mar Aung of the shadow government’s coalition relations committee and Democratic leader Wu Min Ko Ning. The NUG is believed to have taken the initiative in an effort to engage with armed groups that could help bring down Myanmar’s military regime. Basically, the current situation in Myanmar and the activities of the shadow government were discussed. This sudden alliance of NUG with the Arakan Army leads to the question: Is the political situation in Myanmar taking a new turn?

The current situation in Myanmar

After the military seized power in Myanmar, the anti-coup resistance group (PDF) and allies of their ethnic armed group have been fighting the junta for more than a year, with Kachin, Karen, Karenni, and Chin ethnic groups, in particular, supporting the PDF. Myanmar’s military has not been able to contain the opposition, despite unwarranted attacks, lawsuits, assassinations and arson. On the contrary, in many parts of the country, the administrative system has collapsed, while their troops are losing due to killing and fleeing in the face of resistance. Resistance groups have, however, also failed to oust the junta or drive it out of their area altogether resulting in neither side having any decisive win yet. On the contrary, around 600,000 people have been displaced since the coup due to the civil war. About 30,000 people have taken shelter in India and 6,000 in Thailand. Though Myanmar’s economic prospects have almost shattered, the military sustains as strongly as its former military rulers. The impact of Western sanctions is negligible as multinational companies from China, Russia, India, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea are doing their usual business. On the other hand, The NUG government is trying to launch its own administrative system in central Myanmar (especially Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway-centric) through its armed forces PDF.

Relations between the Arakan Army and the NUG

Following the coup, in April last year, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), formed the NUG as a shadow government with lawmakers and allies of ethnic minorities to challenge the junta’s legitimacy at home and abroad. With the promise of a federal democratic union, if military rule ends, the NUG is trying to build trust with ethnic armed groups (EAOs) to fight the military rule. In this effort, NUG is establishing relations with the Arakan Army. On May 15, NUG issued a statement on the occasion of Rakhine National Day and expressed its condolences to the people affected by the military and political conflict in Rakhine. It has also promised to work with relevant agencies to establish justice. The shadow government sent a message of greetings and worked together on April 10, the 13th anniversary of the founding of the Arakan Army.

However, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party’s relationship with the Arakan Army has not been good in the past. While came into power in 2015, the NLD-led government did not play a significant role in promoting democracy, human rights, and the autonomy of ethnic areas. Even having secured the largest number of seats in the Rakhine state, the NLD refused to allow the Arakan National Party (ANP) to elect a state chief minister. When war broke out in Arakan between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar army in 2018, the NLD clearly sided with the army, which angered the Rakhine people. The NLD administration at the time agreed to the world’s longest Internet shutdown in Rakhine State, branding the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization and canceling elections in large parts of Rakhine State. These steps by the Aung San Suu Kyi government further tempted the Arakan Army to transform its demand for autonomy into a struggle for liberation and independence.

Relations between the Arakan Army and the Military Junta

The post-coup civil war situation spread throughout Myanmar, but the Rakhine state was an exception. A ceasefire agreed upon between the Military and the Arakan Army in November 2020 has kept the region relatively calm ever since. The Arakan Army has discouraged mass protests against the coup, and the Rakhine state remains relatively peaceful while other parts of the country were engulfed in violence. As a result, while the military was busy suppressing resistance across the country to consolidate its power, the political wing of the Arakan Army, the United League of Arakan, established administrative control over two-thirds of the state (especially rural areas) and introduced its own tax system and judiciary. To ensure stability in Rakhine, the junta also, as part of its political and military strategy, withdrew the Internet blackout in Rakhine and withdrew the Arakan Army from the list of terrorist organizations after the coup, and released many political prisoners associated with it.

But, the Arakan Army’s recent reluctance to meet directly with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and its currently evolving relational proximity to the NUG has made the military rethink its strategic and operational orientations toward the armed group to some extent, prompting the military to step up security in Rakhine and urge locals not to contact the Arakan Army. In response, the Arakan Army is also threatening the head of the Myanmar Army’s Western Command, accusing it of interfering in internal affairs. There have also been a few minor clashes between the two forces, such as an exchange of fire, signaling likely future disability.

Change on Course

Although the Arakan Army has not yet institutionalized a dream of independence of independent Arakan, they are committed to gaining autonomy. And the Arakan Army has an endless opportunity to gain international support by involving the Rohingya in gaining autonomy purposefully demonstrated by Arakan Army Chief General Tuan Mrat Naing while making positive comments in favor of Rohingya repatriation and civil rights to the Rohingya. NUG has already announced that it will return civil rights to the Rohingya, with the implicit intent of gaining international recognition. It has even supported the ongoing jurisdiction in the International Court of Justice on the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Myanmar army against the Rohingya.

The Myanmar army has been pursuing a policy of procrastination with respect to the Rohingya repatriation, effectively to gain the support of the Bamar tribe in line with its long-standing policy of feeding Buddhist Nationalism for political scores. However, the experience of the Bamar people being persecuted by the junta in the post-coup period has created an anti-military attitude in the Bamar tribe itself. Now the military is hanging the Rohingya repatriation issue as a trump card in the international arena though they have the potential for international sympathy by repatriating the Rohingya.

 If the Arakan Army changes its current silent stance in favor of the NUG, the landscape of Myanmar’s internal politics may change. Realizing that, NUG is trying to gain the support of the Arakan Army. Now evolving relational proximity between the Arakan Army and NUG will likely invigorate the already growing collective resistance further against the oppressive Junta regime. With the potential for further change in the already complex political landscape in Myanmar, now the question is:  How much will the military Junta change its current policy orientation, be it to the people’s democratic aspiration or rights to the Rohingya minorities?  

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Southeast Asia

18 Months Under Military Rule: What can ASEAN still do about Myanmar?



Authors: Teh Zi Yee & Nory Ly*

18 months after the military coup, the ongoing political crisis in Myanmar has become an economic, political, and humanitarian disaster for the country with no end in sight. There have been mass protests, armed resistance, and mass killings in the country since the military seized power on 1 February 2021.

According to the United Nations as of June 2022, over 14.4 million people need spontaneous humanitarian assistance, and more than one million people have been displaced internally. In addition, the Myanmar military junta has killed hundreds of protesters and detained thousands of activists and government officials, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The military junta has also drawn international condemnation over its recent execution of four democracy activists. While ASEAN has been seen as a key player in bringing peace to Myanmar with the Five-Point Consensus reached in April 2021, the bloc has failed to achieve a breakthrough in issues related to the situation in the country. 

The first three-day trip to Myanmar by Cambodian Foreign Minister and ASEAN Special Envoy Prak Sokhonn was seen as relatively unsuccessful as the special envoy was only allowed to meet certain junta-aligned figures, and the trip did not come with any breakthroughs. Similarly, the special envoy’s second official trip to the country was denied access to key stakeholders on the issue, but the trip was at least concluded with some progress, notably on the expediting of the delivery of humanitarian assistance. As a regional organization, it is within the interest of ASEAN as a whole that Myanmar’s crisis be resolved. Below are five recommendations for ASEAN to tackle Myanmar’s worsening crisis:

1) Review the non-interference policy amid the Myanmar crisis

The non-interference principle, a decades-long policy of ASEAN, has resulted in the “hands-off policy” or the so-called “wait and see” approach of some ASEAN countries towards the ongoing political crisis in Myanmar. It has been argued that ASEAN prioritizes the non-interference principle over democracy and human rights as a non-intrusive regional organization because some of its member states have undemocratic regimes. 

While the non-interference principle guarantees ASEAN member states’ independence and sovereignty, it also limits the bloc’s capability to give a forceful collective response to resolve the dismal political crisis in Myanmar. It is encouraging to see that Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, has once openly called on ASEAN to rethink its non-interference policy amidst the Myanmar crisis, but it will not be easy for the bloc to change the non-interference policy since each ASEAN member state has taken their respective stance on the situation. 

It is good that ASEAN took the unprecedented step of not inviting the military regime and its foreign minister to the ASEAN summit and ministers’ meeting, but there is still a need for engagement. ASEAN member states need to continue to invite “non-political” Myanmar representatives to participate in formal diplomatic dialogues and discussions until the regime makes acceptable and significant progress on the 5PC. In addition, ASEAN as a whole will have to review its non-interference policy through diplomatic talks and use a more flexible approach that allows any forceful actions to be taken to tackle the situation in Myanmar, including suspending Myanmar’s ASEAN membership if necessary. Currently, ASEAN member states are locked and tied by their firm commitment to the principle of non-interference. As long as ASEAN sticks to the non-interference policy, it will be difficult for the bloc to address the Myanmar situation effectively.

2) Strengthen the Five-Point Consensus 

ASEAN as a whole has been criticized for being relatively soft on the military junta, which leads to little meaningful progress made on the Five-Point Consensus (5PC). While the ASEAN special envoy reaffirmed the implementation of the 5PC during his second visit to Myanmar, the viability of the 5PC has been questioned by critics. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has once criticized Southeast Asian governments for not doing enough to push the military junta to adhere to the 5PC, urging them to put stronger pressure on the country’s military administration to end violence against its people and move back to the democratic path.  

At this point in time, the most noticeable progress made is the delivery of humanitarian assistance, but the other important commitments of the 5PC will also need to be measured and monitored closely, including constructive dialogues among “all parties” concerned and immediate cessation of violence in the country. 

Since the implementation of the 5PC, there has been no inclusive or fair consultation between all key stakeholders in the ASEAN-junta dialogue. It is imperative that the bloc progressively reviews the consensus in order to uphold the leverage and shape it more effectively to begin an inclusive political dialogue that includes all the relevant stakeholders. The bloc could also, if possible, set deadlines on the 5PC so as to regularly monitor the progress and achieve the desired results of the consensus while assessing the situation. Setting a clear timeline enables the tracking of the progress on the 5PC and holds the junta accountable for adhering to the consensus. 

3) Impose sanctions and restrictive measures on the Myanmar junta

The United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on individuals and groups linked to Myanmar’s military junta in response to the military coup against the democratically elected government. ASEAN governments can consider imposing appropriate sanctions on the Myanmar military if the military-led government continues to commit numerous abuses against the population in the country and does not free the government officials and activists. 

These sanctions can target Myanmar armed dealers and companies responsible for supplying the Myanmar military regime with weapons and equipment. ASEAN governments may also consider imposing restrictions on these individuals’ financial transactions, such as suspending access to their financial accounts if they have such bank accounts in any of the ASEAN countries. Measures can also be taken to prohibit these military junta-aligned individuals and entities from trading and doing business with individuals and regional companies across Southeast Asia if the military junta continues its brutal campaign of violence against the people of Myanmar. The greater the international sanctions imposed against the military junta, the higher the likelihood of bringing them to the negotiating table and ending its oppression in the country. 

4) Engage with the National Unity Government 

The National Unity Government (NUG) is Myanmar’s shadow government formed by representatives from the National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi and others after the military coup. In October 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to recognize the NUG and its parliamentary committee as the only legitimate representatives of the country. 

Saifuddin has once proposed engaging with the NUG informally as part of the bloc’s efforts to end Myanmar’s crisis, and the move was commended by Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country. The other ASEAN countries should consider joining Malaysia in taking decisive steps to engage with the NUG representatives and the other relevant stakeholders through informal diplomatic dialogues if there is still no significant progress made by the military government to implement the 5PC. 

The ASEAN governments may also consider offering to hold a few meetings with the NUG representatives in their respective countries to show support for the NUG. This approach would help ASEAN play a more active role in stepping up pressure on the military junta and bringing them to the negotiating table. While the military government fails to cooperate with the international community to stop the violence against its own people, the bloc should instead work and engage with the NUG and other key stakeholders to resolve the crisis and restore democracy in the country.

5) Provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar

As many Myanmar citizens are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis due to the economic stagnation after the military coup and the spread of COVID-19, additional humanitarian aid is needed to help the people of Myanmar. The UN announced the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Myanmar on 30 January 2022, appealing to the international community to assist the US $826 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 6.2 million targeted people or 11 percent of the population. However, only 10.5 per cent of the HRP has been funded as of June 2022. It is encouraging to see that the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) has been working on providing immediate humanitarian aid to Myanmar. After the first official visit, the ASEAN Chair conducted the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar in May 2022 to discuss a more efficient method of ensuring responsive humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar. 

On top of that, ASEAN governments should also proactively engage the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, to establish a humanitarian coalition that includes the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian partners for better humanitarian coordination. Additionally, ASEAN governments can also provide humanitarian aid through local humanitarian networks, community-based organizations, and ethnic service providers. As the humanitarian crisis is worsening in Myanmar, it is important for ASEAN as a whole to improve its response to better tackle the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Addressing the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar requires some degree of openness and stability in the country as well as joint efforts by neighboring countries to deliver aid to the Burmese people via the Thai-Myanmar border as an alternative channel. While the military junta is blocking international humanitarian groups from delivering desperately needed humanitarian aid to millions of displaced people in the country, the bloc should work together with the international community to press the junta to end its abuses and to allow aid to be delivered. 

*Nory Ly is Director of Research and Project Management for the ASEAN Youth Advocates Network (AYAN) Cambodia. Her research interests include U.S. foreign policy, Southeast Asia diplomacy, international security and defense, and Indo-Pacific diplomacy.

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