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Asean fails to uphold Myanmar democracy

/ 04:03 AM February 23, 2021

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a declared regional community of “caring societies” has starkly revealed its true soul as an enduring club of dictators. The Asean’s staunchly autocratic nature was fully exposed before the global community soon after Myanmar’s Tatmadaw (armed forces) launched its coup d’état in the early morning hours of Feb. 1. The pathetically weak reactions of Southeast Asian states clearly showed their deceitful attitudes toward the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights.

Thus, the Asean’s ruling national elites have deeply buried their own regional project’s avowed values which are affirmed in the Asean Charter itself—regardless if such ideals are widely aspired for by the region’s vastly oppressed masses. Aside from its members’ spineless positions, the Asean Chairman’s Statement of Feb. 2 seriously undermines the regional organization’s already feeble stance on Myanmar. The Asean’s assertion merely encourages “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.” Plainly, the Asean’s concerted stand reinforces Myanmar’s military dictatorship by absolutely failing to openly condemn the coup and its barefaced violent assault on the country’s much-cherished democratic space and gains. As a result, the Tatmadaw’s extremely powerful role within the state has only been fortified through its fourth and latest coup since General Ne Win’s power grab in 1962.

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Clearly, Myanmar’s overnight return to total military rule has again ambushed this Asean country’s hard-won democratic rights and freedoms. Yet despite a despotically imposed national calamity, Myanmar’s peoples—led by its historically courageous working-class forces and democratic mass movements—are once again showing their militant defiance through nationwide mass protest actions. In over a dozen cities, including Yangon, Mandalay, and the capital Naypyidaw, hundreds of thousands have already taken to the streets to resist and fight Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s newly-created military junta—the “State Administrative Council.” The steadily intensifying anti-SAC rallies opposing the tyrannical coup foisted upon Myanmar society are presently focused on both the immediate termination of the military dictatorship and the prompt release from detention of more than 500 lawmakers, activists, workers, students, journalists, and artists, including the country’s president, U Win Myint, and state counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

But surely, there is a basis for the Asean’s cowardly decadent policy toward Myanmar’s neo-fascist rule. While its reactionary direction is largely shaped by the context of the regional bloc’s inherent contradictions and broadly competing dynamics, this policy course can still be reversed. Nonetheless, such regional constraints have to be critically recognized to further comprehend the Asean’s pro-authoritarian reaction to Myanmar’s grave national situation today. These constraints include: a) The region’s highly authoritarian governments fiercely abhor any “interference in the internal affairs” of their own repressive regimes, even as the Asean has a rhetorical policy of “enhanced interaction”; b) As a globally strategic area, the Asean states are perennially forced to seek a balance between the United States and China in their heightening inter-imperialist rivalry to carve out sub-Asean spheres of influence; c) The Asean sees any American sanctions on Myanmar to be more harmful to its people than to the SAC itself; d) China’s geographic proximity and ascendant great power status crucially compel Myanmar’s SAC to enhance its own strategic relations with its northern neighbor while boosting the Tatmadaw’s level of domestic power; and e) While Beijing welcomes whichever faction controls Naypyidaw, its preference remains for the Tatmadaw as a more pliant military-led proxy state versus neighboring India.

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Lastly, the Asean always strives for regional stability by protecting national sovereignty. And it does so via the doctrine of “consensus through consultation” among dictators to preserve the hegemonic dominance of the Asean’s bourgeois ruling classes over state power. Thus, Southeast Asia’s democratic aspirations must always be struggled for across the region at all times.

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Rasti Delizo is an international affairs analyst and an activist in the socialist movement.

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TAGS: Asean, Commentary, democracy in Asia, Myanmar democracy, Rasti Delizo
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