Malaysia calls for ‘strong’ measures on Myanmar as ASEAN meets

The 10-member Southeast Asian grouping has been strained to the limit over the crisis caused by the 2021 military coup.

Myanmar's empty chair at the ASEAN foreign ministers' summit in Jakarta
Myanmar's top officials are excluded from ASEAN meetings [Mast Irham/AFP]

Malaysia has called for “strong” measures against Myanmar’s generals, saying “obstacles” they created have blocked the implementation of a plan to restore peace more than two years since the military seized power in a coup.

The unusually blunt message from Malaysia came as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began meeting in Jakarta for their annual summit, with tensions over Myanmar as well as the situation in the disputed South China Sea straining the 10-member alliance.

“Malaysia and other member countries gave their views that we cannot allow this to continue without strong and effective measures imposed on the junta,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir told reporters after the group’s foreign ministers held talks in the Indonesian capital.

Zambry did not name the other ASEAN members that shared Malaysia’s view.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the February 2021 coup against Myanmar’s elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, agreed to the so-called five-point consensus to end the crisis in Myanmar at a special ASEAN summit two months later.

The military has made little effort to implement the plan and violence has only increased, with the military battling armed civilian groups opposed to its power grab. It has been accused of war crimes for its attacks on civilian populations.

Zambry said the lack of progress on the implementation was because of “obstacles created by the junta”.

Myanmar joined ASEAN under a previous military regime in 1997 but the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government after a period of reform has proved a major challenge for the organisation, highlighting divisions between the more authoritarian and democratic countries in the group.

Experts said this week’s summit was a “last chance” for ASEAN to show it was capable of taking meaningful action on Myanmar.

“At this time, the illegal junta is playing a divide and rule game with ASEAN and the rest of the international community,” said Debbie Stothard, founder and coordinator of ALTSEAN-Burma, a civil society network supporting human rights in Myanmar.

“If we do not unite to tell the junta in no uncertain terms that they have to stop killing civilians and follow that up with action and pressure, the junta will continue to violate the five point consensus with serious repercussions for human security in this region.”

ASEAN leaders started their summit on Tuesday with latest data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners showing at least 4,035 people had been killed since the coup.

The regional leaders will be joined later this week by leaders and top officials from partner countries including China, Japan and the United States.

The presidents of the US and China will not be attending.

Vice President Kamala Harris will replace US President Joe Biden while Chinese Premier Li Qiang is taking part instead of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China is a key player in the dispute over the South China Sea and has been accused of deploying aggressive and dangerous manoeuvres to stake its claim. A new Chinese map of the region has also created upset in Southeast Asia by showing almost the entire South China Sea to be Chinese territory.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters