The crisis in Myanmar persists to this day. During Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022, the Kingdom made efforts to establish trust between ASEAN and Myanmar. Similarly, Indonesia, the current chair in 2023, has consistently pursued a strategy of direct negotiations to address the crisis.
Despite this, the plight of Myanmar continues. Analysts have described two key factors that are contributing to the ongoing crisis in the country.
The current situation in Myanmar has been unfolding for nearly three years, beginning in 2021 when the country’s military leader launched a coup to overthrow the democratically elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
During Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN, former Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the crisis in Myanmar could not be fully resolved within Cambodia’s chairmanship, explaining that it is a complex issue, as the country has been ruled by the military for much of the past 70 years.
ASEAN efforts so far
Thong Mengdavid, a research supervisor at the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), told The Post that Cambodia fulfilled its roles and responsibilities as the chair of ASEAN extremely well, and the ASEAN meetings of that year were successful and garnered wide appreciation from other countries as well.
“Cambodia pursued several means of fostering trust between ASEAN and Myanmar – as well as between the military government and the government of Cambodia – through bilateral and ASEAN frameworks. These efforts aimed to urge the Myanmar government to embrace the implementation of the unanimously agreed-upon ASEAN Five-Point Consensus (5PC). As a result, the military government released numerous prisoners,” he said.
He added that during Indonesia’s chairmanship, it appears to be prioritising the expansion of economic growth and security cooperation in the region.
However, he noted that Indonesia has consistently advocated for its own direct negotiation strategy, and has proposed the establishment of a new Troika mechanism involving three countries, to address the issue in Myanmar. However, he believed that resolving the crisis in Myanmar requires a mutual commitment to find peace and an effective political solution.
Indonesia is approaching the conclusion of its ASEAN chairmanship in 2023, and the responsibility of chairing the bloc in 2024 will be transferred to Laos. The official handover took place during the ASEAN Summit, held in early September in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The roots of the crisis
Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said there are two significant factors contributing to the prolonged crisis in Myanmar.
The first is the political factors generated by internal power struggles among the surviving military regime – which holds strong military power and appears to have perceived a loss of benefits and threat to its survival under the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi – and civilian reformers. Aung San Suu Kyi implemented many reforms, encompassing the state, politics and economics, and these reforms had a negative effect on the military’s influence. This internal rivalry persists between the military conservatives and civilian reformers off Myanmar, resulting in a challenging situation and serious difficulties in finding a solution.
“The second factor is a significant shift in geopolitical power, both regionally and globally. The rise of China as a regional and global superpower, which follows an authoritarian ruling style, has created a rivalry with the weakening ‘free’ order led by the US,” he said.
“The shift in the balance of power from a unipolar position, where the US had sole dominance from the end of the Cold War to 2016, to a multi-polar world with the emergence of other superpowers like China and Russia, has resulted in a series of conflicts and wars, and a tendency towards militaristic dictatorships, as seen in the case of Myanmar. The involvement of the interests of these superpowers in the Myanmar conflict play a crucial role, and mean it is unlikely to be resolved soon,” he added.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that during its chairmanship of the bloc, Cambodia made “significant efforts” and implemented a new approach that international diplomats and foreign politicians responded to with muted applause.
“Former Prime Minister Hun Sen took the bold step of travelling to Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital, to try to engage in discussions with a broad range of politicians. Unfortunately, he was only able to meet with Myanmar’s military leader, Min Aung Hlaing,” he said.
He added that Hun Sen’s intention was to meet with all the dialogue partners involved. However, due to the situation, it was not possible to meet with them all. Nonetheless, Cambodia did its best. The Kingdom also appointed Prak Sokhonn, former Cambodian Foreign Minister, as ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar. He paid visits to Myanmar to meet with key politicians and explore solutions to the key issues at hand. He also pushed for the implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus that Myanmar had agreed upon with ASEAN since 2021.
“This is what Cambodia diligently pursued as chair of ASEAN. It invested significant efforts, because having gone through them itself, the Kingdom comprehends the hardships of war. Cambodia made consistent efforts to achieve peace. It was able to do so thanks to the unwavering support of the international community, combined with the resolute political will of its own politicians,” he explained.
Peou noted that there were few positive signs from Myanmar yet, and believed the crisis appeared stagnant. As global tensions have escalated in various regions in the world, such as Ukraine in Eastern Europe and the intensified conflict between Hamas and Israel in Palestine, these conflicts have attracted significant strategic attention from superpowers, particularly those from the West.
“The ASEAN members which have committed their utmost efforts to finding a solution in Myanmar are Cambodia and Thailand. However, ASEAN requires a consensus,” he added.
The regional bloc responds
On October 17, ASEAN released a statement strongly condemned the bombing of a refugee camp in Myanmar’s Kachin state. The tragedy resulted in the loss of 28 civilian lives, including at least 12 children, while 57 others suffered injuries.
During September’s 43rd ASEAN Summit, under the leadership of Indonesian President Joko Widodo as rotating chair of ASEAN for 2023, the ongoing developments in Myanmar were on the agenda, with discussions centred on the implementation of the bloc’s 5PC.
Following the summit, the ASEAN chairman issued a statement which strongly condemned the continued escalation of violence, noting that it was causing prolonged suffering for the people of Myanmar and a humanitarian crisis, as well as the destruction of houses and public facilities such as schools, hospitals, markets, churches and monasteries. He also warned of the adverse impact on regional stability, particularly along the border regions.
”We reiterate our position that the 5PC remains ASEAN’s main reference to address the political crisis in Myanmar, and in that regard, we were gravely concerned by the lack of substantial progress on its implementation by the authority in Myanmar, despite their commitment to the 5PC in April 2021,” it read.
The summit attendees appreciated the ASEAN chair’s efforts, and the intensive and inclusive engagements by the Office of the Special Envoy, in ensuring concrete progress on the implementation of the 5PC and welcomed the chair’s comprehensive report and assessment.
During the first week of Cambodia’s chairmanship, then-Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a two-day visit to Myanmar on January 7-8, 2022, with the aim of facilitating efforts to prevent violence and civil war through ceasefires, and to address the pressing humanitarian crises within the country by providing assistance to those in need without discrimination.
Although Hun Sen faced some criticism for the visit as he was only able to meet Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing, during an event the following month he explained that he had also received significant support for the trip, as it was intended to prevent further loss of life.
In May 2022, Hun Sen once again met with Min Aung Hlaing, via video conference, to discuss measures to expedite the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (5PC).
In June of that year he wrote a letter to the Myanmar military leader, urging him to reconsider and refrain from carrying out death sentences that had been given to the opposition. Hun Sen also expressed his desire to assist Myanmar in achieving peace and national reconciliation.
The letter explained that the sentencing and execution plans targeting individuals who were perceived as opposing the Myanmar State Administrative Council had sparked a great concern among ASEAN member states and ASEAN’s external partners.
By that November, Myanmar authorities had released approximately 6,000 political prisoners, including Sean Turnell, an Australian economics professor and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi. The prisoners had been arrested during the period of political unrest after the military coup took place.
Lessons from the Kingdom’s past
Government spokesman Pen Bona, took to social media on November 1 to urge countries in conflict to consider employing Hun Sen’s win-win policy to find a pathway to peace.
“When we consider the win-win policy, we immediately think of Hun Sen, the founding father and most direct contributor to the mission to seek peace and national reconciliation for Cambodia. The win-win policy, the sacred formula and masterpiece of Hun Sen, completely ended the long-running civil war that lasted for nearly three decades and pushed the country into the hands of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime,” he said.
He added that the many countries around the world which are seeking to end conflicts – especially those which are at war – should examine Cambodia’s win-win policy, a sacred and unique formula for ending a war without a losing side.