ASEAN’s evolving posture towards Myanmar

The year 2022 began with the most awaited visit of the current ASEAN Chair, Cambodia, to Myanmar. This visit invited quite a controversy as this trip could be seen as a step towards  legitimising the Junta leadership and acknowledging the recent coup—the very reason for which Myanmar was excluded from previous ASEAN meetings. While this has been met with condemnations both globally and within Myanmar, Cambodia hopes to thaw the ice for future dialogues to take place.

The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar  marks the first visit made by a foreign leader since the military seized power in Myanmar last February. During his two-day visit on 7 and 8 January, Hun Sen met with Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other leaders of the military administration, for talks aimed at resolving the country’s tangled political, economic, and humanitarian crises. As Cambodia holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN this year, the PM’s trip was seen to be another effort to implement a five-point ASEAN peace plan adopted last April and amend the impact of the Myanmar crisis on regional security which affected the unity, credibility, and centrality of ASEAN as a rules-based organisation.

In 2021, ASEAN broke free from a self-imposed impasse created by the non-interference policy it has upheld since its foundation. The February coup in Myanmar certainly breached the ASEAN Charter when viewed through the lens of the rule of law, good governance, and democracy, but any prospective response by ASEAN runs against the principle of non-interference. Until last year, whenever ASEAN has faced a dilemma, it has let itself be hamstrung, opting for a wait-and-watch approach.