Indonesia’s Foreign Minister in Diplomatic Push for ASEAN Action on Myanmar Coup

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister in Diplomatic Push for ASEAN Action on Myanmar Coup People release pigeons as they protest the military coup in Myanmar, outside Myanmar’s embassy in Jakarta, Feb. 5, 2021.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi traveled to Brunei on Wednesday and was to visit Singapore a day later as part of a diplomatic push to get Southeast Asian neighbors more involved in addressing the military coup in Myanmar.

Retno said she held talks on the Myanmar crisis with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Erywan Yusof, her Bruneian counterpart, on the first leg of her trip. The sultanate on Borneo Island this year holds the rotating chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.

“I continue to maintain communication with my counterparts at ASEAN and foreign ministers from many countries, and the U.N. envoy on Myanmar,” Retno said in a statement.

“Many countries, including Indonesia, have raised concerns. Raising concerns is one thing, but the question is: What can Indonesia, and ASEAN do to help Myanmar get out of this delicate situation?” she said, referring to the Feb. 1 coup in Myanmar.

Indonesia, along with Malaysia, was one of the first ASEAN countries to suggest a concrete step – calling for an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting – to discuss the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia are among the five founding members of the regional bloc, which was established in 1967. Indonesia, the largest of the countries in the grouping, transitioned to democracy in 1998 after nearly 50 years of military dictatorship since winning freedom from Dutch colonial rule.

Indonesia, through Retno’s diplomatic push, is seeking a regional consensus to address the democratic backsliding in Myanmar without rancor, according to an analyst based in Jakarta.

Retno said that any ASEAN response to the crisis in Myanmar would take into account the regional bloc’s founding principle of non-interference in member-states’ domestic affairs.

“Indonesia believes that the ASEAN mechanism is the most effective mechanism to help Myanmar deal with this delicate situation,” she said, invoking an article in the grouping’s charter about the promotion of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, and human rights.

“Indonesia will continue its efforts to contribute to finding the best solution for the people of Myanmar and for efforts to maintain regional stability, security and peace.”

ASEAN members’ reactions to the coup have been mixed, with countries such as Vietnam and Thailand saying they would not interfere in Myanmar’s affairs, and Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore expressing concern about the military’s toppling of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Manila, at first, took the “internal affairs” line, but later changed its tune and expressed worries about the military coup in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Brunei, as the 2021 chair of ASEAN, held a virtual meeting with Myanmar officials to hear about the situation there, Retno said.

“The chair of ASEAN will certainly continue to communicate and consult with other ASEAN member countries, once again, regarding what ASEAN can do to help Myanmar,” Jakarta’s top diplomat said.

Singapore visit

Retno was scheduled to fly to Singapore and hold talks with her counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday.

Balakrishnan this week supported Indonesia and Malaysia’s call to hold an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss Myanmar, but acknowledged that all members of the bloc had to agree to this.

“A meeting among ASEAN Foreign Ministers would be an opportunity for all ASEAN Member States to share their concerns and perspectives given the importance and urgency of addressing recent developments,” he said on Tuesday in response to a parliamentary question.

“[I] can assure you that there has been an intense flurry of communications, bilateral and group, amongst the foreign ministers in ASEAN. What is the key objective? Our key objective is to achieve peace, reconciliation, and as I said – to help Myanmar get back on the road of democratic transition,” Balakrishnan said in response to another question, according to an official transcript.

Still, the Singaporean foreign minister also cautioned the international community against being “inflammatory,” saying that would worsen the situation in Myanmar.

“I have had conversations with several counterparts – the U.S., Germany, and others, and I have urged against widespread sanctions,” he said, adding that indiscriminate sanctions would affect the ordinary people of Myanmar the most.

‘We know how to approach them’

Indonesia was seeking a regional consensus on addressing the democratic backsliding in Myanmar without rancor, amid intense international pressure on the military regime there, said Teuku Rezasyah, an international relations lecturer at Padjajaran University in Bandung.

“Indonesia is worried that Myanmar, which is under pressure from the West, will decide to leave ASEAN or fall into China’s embrace, because Southeast Asian countries don’t seem to have a single voice regarding the situation there,” Rezasyah told BenarNews.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei were influential enough to get other ASEAN members to agree on a common stance on Myanmar, he said.

In addition, Indonesia is among the few countries that understands the situation in Myanmar, because of its own experience with military dictatorship and a transition to democracy, Rezasyah said.

“We have experience on how to talk to the Myanmar military. We know how to approach them without embarrassing the parties there,” he said.

The analyst was referring to the significant role played by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or “SBY,” Indonesia’s first directly elected president, and himself a former general, in Myanmar’s democratic transition.

Yudhoyono helped mediate conflicts between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities, provided input on drafting democratic laws and invited officials to learn about democratic institutions, the executive director of the Bali Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), I Ketut Putra Erawan, told BenarNews earlier this month.

The coup in Myanmar has prompted calls for Jakarta to again take on the mantle of regional role model to help its neighbor back on the path to democracy.


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