ASEAN chair Indonesia: Won’t resort to ‘megaphone diplomacy’ with Myanmar

Indonesia said Monday it would be “impossible” to resolve the crisis in Myanmar during Jakarta’s term as ASEAN chair and that it wouldn’t resort to “megaphone diplomacy” to force the Burmese junta to implement a regional roadmap to peace.

The Indonesian government would urge Myanmar’s military rulers to take steps to allow the Southeast Asian bloc to facilitate a national dialogue to end violence that has followed the military coup, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in parliament.

“We know the history of Myanmar, the complexities that Myanmar is facing, so it’s impossible to expect everything to be completed this year,” Retno told House members at a hearing on plans and priorities during Jakarta’s 2023 chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The second anniversary of the coup falls on Wednesday, two days before Retno hosts a retreat of foreign ministers from ASEAN states at the bloc’s headquarters in Jakarta on Feb. 3-4 – the first meeting on the bloc’s calendar under Indonesia’s leadership. The country is one of the founding members of the 55-year-old regional bloc, which operates on the core principle of consensus.

Retno said ASEAN could facilitate an inclusive national dialogue, but that would require a situation conducive to one. And such a situation, she said, could only be created if the violence ended and if the community could get humanitarian assistance.

“Each party needs space to move, think and act. For this reason, Indonesia will not use a diplomatic megaphone in conducting engagements, especially at the beginning of the leadership,” she added.

Indonesia will work in accordance with the ASEAN five-point consensus, which its members agreed to in April 2021 for putting Myanmar back on a path to peace, Retno said. She added that Indonesia was pushing for an inclusive approach to resolving the conflict in Myanmar through dialogue.

Still, Indonesia would have a lot to contribute, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Sunday as he officially kicked off Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

“I believe that ASEAN is still important for the people, the region, and the world,” Jokowi said.

He noted that Indonesia took over as ASEAN chair amid a difficult global situation, with an economic, energy, and food crisis, due to the war in Ukraine.

“ASEAN will keep contributing to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN will continue to maintain economic growth,” Jokowi said.

Retno’s latest statements mark a departure from Indonesia’s earlier stance, in which Jakarta criticized the Burmese junta for not implementing the five-point consensus.

The consensus called for an end to violence, the provision of humanitarian assistance, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy, dialogue between all stakeholders and mediation by the envoy.

Myanmar’s military, which toppled an elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, reneged on the consensus that it had “agreed to” in April that year. The agreement was meant to be a roadmap to restore peace and democracy in Myanmar.

Since the coup, the Burmese junta has carried out a widespread campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests and attacks targeting civilians, the United Nations and human rights groups have said.

Close to 3,000 people have been killed and more than 17,000 have been arrested in the nearly two years since, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Many regional observers and analysts, as well as the previous foreign minister of Malaysia, had said it was time to junk the consensus and devise a new plan on a deadline that included enforcement mechanisms.

‘Soft diplomacy’

Meanwhile, Anis Hidayah, a commissioner at the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), said that because the Myanmar issue was complex and sensitive, the government needed to tread carefully, especially given that Indonesia was not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“We really have to use soft diplomacy on how to raise humanitarian issues in Myanmar, for example regarding the Rohingya,” Anis told RFA-affiliate BenarNews.

She was referring to the increase in Myanmar refugees fleeing to Indonesia – with soft diplomacy Jakarta might be able to persuade the Myanmar junta to reduce violence to prevent people from fleeing.

However, many of the Rohingya arriving in Indonesia reportedly flee from Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps as well.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this month that arrivals of Rohingya refugees in Aceh had surged last year to 574 people. By comparison, between 2020 and 2022, officials recorded the arrival of 1,155 Rohingya refugees in Aceh.

“However, I agree that our ASEAN chairmanship this year must raise human rights issues in general in the region,” Anis said.

One legislator, Sukamta, reminded Minister Retno during the hearing that if Indonesia failed to make headway on the Myanmar issue, it would affect ASEAN stability.

“We have a big obstacle related to Myanmar … this is a challenge for ASEAN to become an engine of peace. Because it’s a challenge for ASEAN’s growth when Myanmar is no longer stable,” Sukamta said.

“As the junta gets more brutal, refugees run rampant. Now refugees have become a commodity for people smuggling, and Indonesia has become one of the smuggling routes. This is a big challenge for Indonesia’s chairmanship,” Sukamta said in the House.

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