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Indonesia to kick off ASEAN chairmanship with political crisis in Myanmar as priority

Indonesia said it has formed the office of special envoy to Myanmar led by the Foreign Minister as mandated by the Five-Point Consensus, a peace plan that all ASEAN members agreed on two years ago.

Indonesia to kick off ASEAN chairmanship with political crisis in Myanmar as priority

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, bangs a drum during the opening ceremony of the Kick Off 2023 ASEAN Indonesian Chairmanship in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. Indonesia will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, for 2023. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA: Indonesia will kick off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by hosting its first major meeting on Friday (Feb 3). 

The group's foreign ministers will gather at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to discuss a slew of issues affecting the region.

The last time Indonesia led ASEAN was in 2011. This time, the country will have to deal with a set of different challenges, with the political crisis in Myanmar a key concern.

Jakarta wants to drum up the message that it is committed to help Myanmar through its chairmanship.

"We want to implement the Five-Point Consensus. This will be the main platform from ASEAN to contribute to help Myanmar exit from the political crisis,” said Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi.

This is despite the Myanmar military regime not honouring its part of the peace agreement almost two years on.

The Five-Point Consensus is ASEAN's peace plan for Myanmar, which was agreed on by all 10 leaders in Jakarta in April 2021, two months after the military coup in the member country. 

The plan calls for an immediate cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special envoy, engagement with the envoy, and regional humanitarian assistance.


Indonesia said it has formed the office of special envoy to Myanmar led by the Foreign Minister as mandated by the Five-Point Consensus. 

However, head of the Department of International Relations at Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies Lina Alexandra said such a strategy may be too short-sighted to work.

"Looking at the complexities of the crisis, it will never be solved in one year. That's why if each ASEAN chair just thinks within the framework of one year, it will not go anywhere. Rather than the chair's special envoy, it should be ASEAN's special envoy,” she said.

“ASEAN needs to deal with this, not individual chair, because it's like passing the ball from one chair (to the next). Okay, now it's your problem, now it's your turn.”

Indonesia will also try to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar, something which the previous two ASEAN chairs - Cambodia and Brunei - had failed to do.

"At the moment, there is distrust towards ASEAN from the opposition, from the NUG (National Unity Government) because they've been disappointed in the move by some ASEAN countries who seem to be giving endorsement to the junta,” said research professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar.

“So, it is very important, considered to be an achievement, if during the Indonesian championship, there'll be possibilities for the various parties to meet together.”


However, despite ASEAN’s commitment to improving the situation, the regional group's clout on Myanmar is limited and it is unable to take a tougher stance against the military regime, said Prof Anwar from the Research Center for Politics, National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Jakarta. 

"Unfortunately, ASEAN does not have a mechanism for definitive suspension, let alone expulsion of a member. In the UN, you know, a member can be suspended through the action of the UN Security Council. The Commonwealth can suspend its members, but ASEAN, unfortunately, does not have that kind of stipulation,” she said.

Still, there are high expectations of Indonesia, as Southeast Asia's biggest economy, to find a breakthrough on the Myanmar crisis.

"If there is no breakthrough with the Myanmar crisis, regardless, whatever Indonesia has achieved during the chairmanship, it will be tainted, people will still criticise it’s not a successful chairmanship,” Dr Alexandra said.

Myanmar's military regime recently issued a strict new electoral law, the latest sign it is planning fresh polls this year. This could be the latest challenge for ASEAN to make sure that the election does not spiral into fresh rounds of violence.

Experts said if Jakarta is able to show progress on the crisis in Myanmar, it will be long remembered as an effective leader in the region.

Indonesia will, however, also need to lead ASEAN this year on a number of other issues. These include how to manage the South China Sea dispute, and how to ensure ASEAN's growth amid economic uncertainties.  

Source: CNA/ja(ca)


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