–Coming home from Indonesia–post: English+Italiangallery captions: englishGeneral Min Aung Hlaing showed up in Jakarta as normal country leaders do. Dressed up as a civilian, walking on the red carpet, being welcomed by local authorities.Staging a coup, killing over 700 hundred people, arresting over 3000, causing terror for nearly three months, bringing the country to a near collapse and a widespread civil war, should not grant anyone such an enjoyable trip. The fact that the general is able to travel so freely is mind blowing.
ASEAN considers having Min Aung Hlaing come to Indonesia to discuss a crisis he himself caused, a success. “It’s beyond our expectations”, said Malaysian prime minister to reporters.
But was it really a success?
There is value in diplomacy. There is value in having a crisis solved through peaceful means, but diplomacy is not only statements, and is not only avoiding frictions. This summit failed in a very concerning way.
– Just words: the five steps that have been proposed in Jakarta deserve full support. But some steps are missing. For sure everyone would like to see the cessation of violence and a peaceful solution. But the ASEAN council fails to recognise who caused this crisis. Calling for both parties to restrain from violence is insulting to a largely peaceful movement. It fails to call this a coup. It fails to recognise that the people want democracy. And it also fails to point out what the consequences would be if General Min Aung Hlaing continues to ignore these requests. Authoritarian regimes find fertile ground because of the lack of consequences to their shameful actions. After the 2017 Rohingya genocide, the Tatmadaw knows very well that it can get away with genocide, let alone a coup. Just like after previous empty statements from the UN and other foreign powers, the natural reaction is to ask: “Or else, what?
-Not recognising the problem: a successful solution, requires knowing what the real problem is. And it’s not the violence itself. And ultimately it’s not even the coup. The problem is that a country of 50 millions people is not willing to live under a dictatorship that lasted for 70 years. Any proposal that doesn’t address this issue, will not solve the Myanmar’s crisis. Even if the soldiers stopped killing and arresting, the crisis would still be open. Myanmar people made it clear they want the 2008 constitution to be abolished. If this doesn’t happen, protests would likely continue. The Tatmadaw would have to control these protests to retain its power, and it would probably blame the resistance for undermining the peace process. This is exactly what ethnic minorities experienced for 7 decades. Being oppressed and then being blamed for refusing to be oppressed.
– Legitimacy: Min Aung Hlaing calculated that this walk of shame was worth it. Sure the absence of the Thai and Laos PMs and the Philippines president made this summit less relevant, but he now has some pictures to show to his troops, his supporters and to anyone who is not fully aware of #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar (they are much more than we think). Just like the CNN operation, this trip serves the Tatmadaw’s own propaganda. ASEAN was surely aware of this, but still chose this route. It’s not clear if it truly believes in this peace process, or if it’s a PR effort that gives shelter to the burmese general. After failing to call out the Thai coup, the Rohingya crisis and Duterte’s criminal policies, ASEAN’s reputation will surely not benefit from this. It could still save its face by engaging with the NUG, the Myanmar elected government, but so far there is no sign of that. Without doing this, the true intention of ASEAN would be easily revealed.
These statements will not solve the burmese crisis, let alone bringing democracy to the country (which should be the ultimate goal). The voices of burmese people and the NUG have been ignored once again. There is no condemnation for the actions of the Tatmadaw. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam surely don’t sympathise with this resistance movement, as they have to deal with similar ones within their borders. This is diplomacy nowadays. A diplomacy that fails to engage with real people and their aspirations. A diplomacy with the only aim of retaining power and avoid criticism. This type of weak toothless diplomacy, is the one that lets authoritarian regimes expand all over the world.
If this summit will help stopping the violence, it’s still a win, but let’s not forget what is happening here. The people of Myanmar tasted democracy (though a deeply flawed one). This is not 1988. The generation Z grew up in a mostly free society, and had dreams for an even better one. Trade Unions started to get some rights. A middle class was slowly developing.
Those dreams were stolen, but the people are not willing to go back in the dark.
Until the revolution succeeds, the people will make their voices heard. The world better listen.