On April 24th, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held an emergency summit to determine the bloc’s response to the violent coup in Myanmar. The meeting in Jakarta marks the first cooperative international movement to handle the crisis, with leaders and representatives working together to develop a solution. This included military coup leader Min Aung Hlaing in his first foreign trip since staging the coup on 1st February. ASEAN leaders agreed to meet with the military general but would not recognize him as Myanmar’s head of state.
The summit is in response to the coup that Min Aung Hlaing began, overthrowing the democratically elected government, citing claims of election fraud without providing credible evidence. Since the coup, the regime has violently cracked down on dissent and peaceful protests demanding a return to democracy. Since February first, the junta has killed over 700 civilians and imprisoned over 3,300 people.
After the summit, ASEAN issued a statement calling on all parties to exercise the “utmost restraint” and cease all violence. They expressed an interest in constructive dialogue moving forward, promising to send a special ASEAN envoy to mediate negotiations for a peaceful end to the crisis. They also promised to send humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, as well as a delegation to meet with all parties. Min Aung Hlaing has said that he is not opposed to ASEAN implementing such measures, agreeing to move forward and “engage with ASEAN in a constructive way,” according to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement after the meeting on Saturday.
The National Unity Government (NUG), a group made up of parliamentary officials from the original democratic government in Myanmar, notably did not receive an invitation to the summit. The spokesperson for the group, Dr Sasa, highlighted that “Meetings that exclude the people of Myanmar but include murderer in chief Min Aung Hlaing who is murdering the people of Myanmar are unlikely to be helpful.”
Spokespeople from human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Fortify Rights have echoed similar sentiments. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that “Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created.”
Other international entities have imposed trade sanctions on the Myanmar military and its related businesses and condemned the violent crimes it is committing against the citizens of Myanmar. The United Nations Security Council has not acted, likely due to support of the Myanmar military by its members China and Russia.
ASEAN typically takes a stance of non-interference with its member states, but this response marks their first attempt to deal with such a situation. Whether they will succeed in de-escalating the crisis and whether Min Aung Hlaing will actually respond to this de-escalation remains to be seen. It is now on the group to follow through on their promises and bring relief to the people of Myanmar.
The group’s holistic attempt to call on all parties to cease violence ignores the one-sided nature of the coup, which somewhat undermines its attempts to support the citizens of Myanmar. A balance needs to be struck between negotiations to stop further violence and legitimizing a violent and oppressive regime. Regardless, Min Aung Hlaing needs to be held responsible for his crimes, whether that be in the near future or after power has been returned to the people of Myanmar.