The special summit of Asean leaders held over the weekend in Jakarta, called by Brunei, the Asean chair, at the request of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, is notable for the fact that it was the first coordinated international effort to mitigate the crisis in Myanmar, which was triggered by the Feb 1 coup that thwarted the National League for Democracy-led government from taking office for a second term. While coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, showed up in Jakarta in what was a display of self-assurance, the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Laos chose to send only senior representatives. Nevertheless, this represents a significant moment for Asean and its recalcitrant partner.
The three-hour summit was not without results, although some would have expected more, such as an unequivocal commitment by the junta to release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, the chairman’s statement speaks of “consensus” – and presumably Myanmar’s senior general concurs – for the immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue between the military and protesters, an Asean special envoy to facilitate mediation of a dialogue process, and Asean humanitarian assistance to the nation. Given Myanmar’s past reluctance to brook any outside intervention in its domestic affairs, this represents significant movement, and Asean, too, has passed a key test.