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Mar 03, 2021 / 14:18

ASEAN towards Myanmar: Ready to assist Naypyidaw

Some member states are concerned that ASEAN’s goodwill to help would be unlikely to materialize if Myanmar doesn’t open its doors to the bloc.

ASEAN member states on March 2 said they are ready to assist Myanmar which records escalating violence against protesters after the military coup in early February.

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said at the meeting on March 2. Photo: MOFA 

ASEAN chair’s statement issued after foreign ministers’ online meeting stated that they “expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.”

Speaking at the meeting, the first gathering among ministers since the coup, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said the escalating violence and casualties in Myanmar have left impact on the country and the region. He called for restraint and dialogues to ensure safety for people and bring the situation to normalcy.

Minh proposed ASEAN utilizing existing regional and global cooperation mechanisms, including those by the United Nations to help Myanmar.

Regional diplomats expressed their concern on the situation in Myanmar and called on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility.

They called for de-escalation of the situation in Myanmar and all parties concerned “to seek a peaceful solution, through constructive dialogue, and practical reconciliation in the interests of the people and their livelihood.”

 ASEAN's informal foreign ministers meeting on Myanmar held on March 2. Photo: MOFA

ASEAN has a principle of non-interference, which was seen as a hurdle for the member states to hold a ministerial meeting on the matter.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after the meeting that democracy must be restored in Myanmar.

Marsudi said “ASEAN met to discuss and seek solutions, but it takes two to tango.” “The wish and goodwill of ASEAN to help will be unable to be carried out if Myanmar doesn't open its doors to ASEAN,” Kyodo News cited her.

“Internal communication between stakeholders in Myanmar is always the best option, but Indonesia believes ASEAN is also ready to facilitate the dialogue if asked,” Marsudi said at the meeting.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made a similar statement, and called for the release of Suu Kyi, Nikkei Asia reported.

“We remain with conviction that the solution to the political deadlock in Myanmar is a domestic-led process,” he said. “It is crucial for Myanmar to strive for a solution to the political crisis in a way that upholds the will and aspiration of the people of Myanmar.”

Malaysia will support any effort to reconcile the differences among Myanmar's leaders and calls for the prompt and unconditional release of detained political leaders in Myanmar, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Win Myint and their associates, he added.

The foreign ministers from Singapore and the Philippines also urged an immediate release of Suu Kyi during the meeting.

Thailand, which had been quiet on the issue, on Monday also raised fears about the situation on its doorstep.

“Thailand has been following developments in Myanmar with concern,” the kingdom's foreign ministry said in a statement. “We hope all sides in Myanmar will exercise utmost restraint and engage in dialogue in order to achieve peaceful resolution of the situation and the return to normalcy for the interests of the Myanmar people.”

The coup that led to widespread strikes and escalating violence with more than 20 protesters have been killed and hundreds reportedly arrested in the military’s crackdown on the protests.

In another move, a court on Monday filed additional charges against ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, blocking her comeback path, Nikkei Asia reported.

At the United Nations General Assembly’s informal meeting on Myanmar held on February 26, Vietnam’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy called on international efforts to assist Myanmar’s democratic transition with an aim to ensure the people-centered approach.

Quy said the support, including that from ASEAN, needs to respect the independence, sovereignty, and internal affairs of Myanmar while securing humanitarian access and essential services to local people, mostly vulnerable ones.

Shortly after the coup, Spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang said Vietnam keeps an eye on the developments in Myanmar and hopes that the country will soon stabilize the situation to maintain the national development for peace, stability, and cooperation in the region.

In an interview with the BBC, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was negative on the possibility of imposing sanctions on Myanmar, expressing concerns about direct hurt to Myanmar population.

Indonesia, ASEAN's biggest economy, played a key role in arranging the meeting. President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met on Feb 5, where they agreed to call a special Myanmar meeting.

Indonesia’s Marsudi met her Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in Bangkok on Feb 24, paving a way to hold a regional meeting. She also has held calls with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Japan, India and China.