Thursday, May 28, 2009
ASEAN on Trial Again
WHILE Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyer does not know whether to be "happy or sad", since she is still in prison and on trial though no longer under house arrest, the delicacy of her health and the frailty of her political condition leave no room for ambivalence and prevarication. Of course, the tin soldiers in charge, who have put the opposition in chains and silenced domestic dissent, want the rest of the world to shut up, too, and stay out of their domestic dealings. And so does Asean, in keeping with its sacrosanct principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another. Even when it was not possible to remain blind, dumb and deaf when the internal turned into the infernal in Myanmar, the regional grouping has chosen to speak softly rather than strongly, as reflected in the most recent expression of "grave concern" over Suu Kyi's trial and the commitment to constructive engagement by the Asean chair.
Certainly, the tougher words which have emanated from other quarters have had no more effect on the stiff-necked generals than the muted response from Asean, and neither have their sanctions. No doubt, in an organisation which renounces the use of force, believes in the peaceful resolution of conflicts and eschews mechanisms to penalise unyielding members, the only recourse is to dialogue and diplomacy. But the military junta in Myanmar has been a festering regional sore for far too long to warrant diplomatic niceties and kid-glove treatment. Suu Kyi may be in the dock on account of the unwelcome visit of an eccentric American, but Asean has been on trial for many years now because of its failure to rein in the maverick in its midst. It may only be words, but since words are all it seems to have, the least that its members should do is to send an unequivocal message to the prickly generals by speaking -- openly, loudly and clearly, collectively or individually -- or forever hold its tongue.
It would seem that China and India prefer to say little and do not want to use strong words. Neither do they have to. They should be able to speak softly and privately to the generals and still be heard. As Myanmar's largest investment and trading partners, the two Asian giants have the leverage that Asean does not have. But so far they have shown little inclination to use their considerable behind-the-scenes influence. It is time Asean prods its two Asian partners to do more to help in its trials and tribulations over Myanmar.
Editorial, New Straits Times