The clashes between the military junta in Myanmar and local paramilitary groups have intensified. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes; many have tried to cross the border into Thailand.
As the crisis worsens, the ASEAN community is being put to the test: 55 million people are living under the threat of war and worsening economic conditions in Myanmar, threatening the ideal of a peaceful Southeast Asia.
The ASEAN member states do not have a unified position. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have condemned the junta’s approach and urged it not to use force against the population. Other ASEAN members have been more subdued in their comments.
The danger for ASEAN is that if Myanmar continues down its current path, it will create instability within the bloc, both security-wise and in terms of trade. It also creates political issues, as member states may not agree on the handling of the crisis.
Risk and Opportunity
On the bright side, ASEAN has a track record of finding political solutions, despite its cautious approach. The crisis will be a test that could strengthen the political alliance if passed successfully. If ASEAN can find a unified position against brutality and put people first, it will gain the respect of the people and also of its international trading partners.
And ASEAN has taken steps in that direction: It has excluded the junta leader from its ASEAN summit in October over his failure to implement a peace process agreed with the union back in April. ASEAN leaders have also pressed for peace talks in private conversations.
The harshest political measurement would be the expulsion of Myanmar from ASEAN, although the ASEAN charter does not have such provisions. Enough political pressure could also result in Myanmar voluntarily suspending its membership.
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