Interview with a representative from the ASEAN Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Myanmar’s stance and cooperation with ASEAN in the implementation of the ASEAN five point consensus
Q - Could you please explain how the ASEAN five point consensus evolved?
A - His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Yang DiPertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Chairman of ASEAN for 2021, extended an invitation to the Chairman of the State Administration Council, Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing for attending the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on 24-4-2021 at the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia, which was convened inperson after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, that informal meeting was called under the name of ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting to discuss the internal political developments of Myanmar.
The meeting was held with three agendas; (1) ASEAN Community Building, (2) ASEAN’s External Relations, (3) Excha-nge of views on Regional and International Issues. At the meeting, the Chairman of the State Administration Council reiterated Myanmar’s commitment to work closely with the chair, including all ASEAN Member States, to successfully achieve chair’s deliverables aiming for a resilient and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and for further progress towards the ASEAN Community building efforts. The Chairman of the State Administration Council also comprehensively apprised the meeting of the recent developments in Myanmar especially on the reason why the Tatmadaw had constitutionally assumed the State’s responsibilities on 1 February 2021, handling of protests in maximum restraints, and the structure, future pro-grammes and works of the State Administration Council.
ASEAN Leaders also exchanged views on the current situation and some suggestions were highlighted in the Chairman’s Statement on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. In response to the suggestions made by ASEAN Leaders, the Chairman of the State Administration Council informed the meeting on three points; (1) Myanmar will consider carefully some constructive suggestions made by ASEAN Leaders based on evolving domestic situation of the country, (2) As Myanmar prioritizes to maintain law and order and to restore community peace and tranquility, Myanmar will consider some suggestions based on the national interests of the country (3) the suggestions will be positively considered if it would facilitate the implementation of the FiveStep Roadmap laid down by the State Administration Council and are based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Way and ASEAN Spirit. Those points were issued in the press statement on 26 April 2021.
Chair of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting released the Chairman’s Statement where the ASEAN five point consensus was annexed mentioning the immediate cessation of violence, commencement of a constructive dialogue among all parties concerned, appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair, provisions of humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre and the visit of the special envoy to Myanmar.
In fact, the then ASEAN Chair did not officially inform or negotiate with other ASEAN Member States on the issuance of the five point consensus. Therefore, we can hardly call it a consensus reached among ASEAN Member States through negotiation and formal adoption. Nevertheless, Myanmar is fully commited to cooperating with other ASEAN Member States in implementing the five point consensus based on ASEAN’s fundamental principles.
Q - What is Myanmar’s official position on the ASEAN five point consensus?
A - The ASEAN Leaders’ Mee-ting was held on 24-4-2021 in Jakarta not as a regular ASEAN Summit but as an informal ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. The issuance of the fivepoint consensus was not informed in advance and it was released as an annex of the Chairman’s Statement of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. In this regard, Myanmar views that the ASEAN five point con-sensus is not a legally binding document but a proposal based on constructive suggestions of ASEAN family members to implement and cooperate as much as possible in accordance with the national interests of the concerned member state. The Information Team of the State Administration Council publicly declared Myanmar’s official positions on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting through a Press Release on 26-4-2021.
The precis of the Press Release on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting is; Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services attended the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting which was held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 24 April 2021 at the invitation of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Yang DiPertuan of Brunei Darussalam; at the Meeting, the Chairman of the State Administration Council reiterated Myanmar’s commitment to work closely with the chair, including all ASEAN Member States, to successfully achieve chair’s deliverables aiming for a resilient and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and for further progress toward the ASEAN Community building efforts; the Chairman of the State Administration Council also apprised the Meeting of the recent developments in Myanmar especially on the reason why the Tatmadaw had constitutionally assumed the State’s responsibilities on 1 February 2021, handling of protests with maximum restraints, and the structure, future programmes and activities of the State Administration Council comprehensively; ASEAN Leaders also exchanged views on the current situation which some suggestions were highlighted in the Chairman’s Statement on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting; in response to some of the suggestions made by ASEAN Leaders, Myanmar informed the Meeting that it will give careful consideration to constructive suggestions made by ASEAN Leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country since priorities at the moment were to maintain law and order and to restore community peace and tranquility; in this regard, Myanmar also informed the Meeting that the suggestions would be positively considered if it would facilitate the implementation of the five step roadmap laid down by the State Administration Council, serves the interests of the country and was based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Way and ASEAN Spirit; Myanmar also suggested ASEAN Leaders to thoroughly review the information booklet circulated at the Meeting before comments are made relating to the current political situation in Myanmar.
As mentioned above, Myanmar is fully and closely cooperating with ASEAN not only in imple-menting the five point consensus but also in the ASEAN Community Building efforts despite imposing targeted pressures on Myanmar based on groundless accusations and allegations of ASEAN’s division on Myanmar issue. Those onesided allegations are totally groundless, biased and would not lead to a constructive approach and solution but only worsen the alreadyexisted misperceptions against Myanmar.
There are some ASEAN Member States which hold negative views against Myanmar by sidelining her and limiting its representation to the ASEAN Summit and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Such unprecendented action against Myanmar is unilateral and in breach of the ASEAN Charter. ASEAN Member States are obligated and obliged to strictly adhere to the ASEAN fundamental principles of consultation and consensus especisally in the times of rising geopolitical competitions and major power rivalries.
The world media turns a blind eye to the inhumane and ruthless killings of monks, innocent civillians, public servants, students and children, and violent activities being committed by the NUG, CRPH and PDF which have been officially declared as terroist groups by the Government of Myanmar encouraging for more terrorism, radicalism in the country due to fake news, disinformation and misinformation about Myanmar by the media.
It is essential that ASEAN and international community need to understand the realities of Myanmar pragmatically and cooperate closely with the Myanmar government. However, the last ASEAN Summit held in November 2022 in Cambodia adopted the ASEAN leaders' Review and Decision on the Implementation of the five point consensus derailing from the ASEAN Spirit and ASEAN Way as the review fails to take into account of the progress and cooperative efforts by the State Administration Council in ASEAN Community Building efforts and the review and decisions purely aims to put undue pressure on Myanmar. As such, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar released a Press Statement pointing out the flaws of the socalled review and 15 points of decisions by the ASEAN Summit on 11-11-2022.
Q - Could you please explain Myanmar’s position on the appointment of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair?
A - As a gesture of goodwill and cooperation with ASEAN, Myanmar is carrying out appropirate measures including by facilitating the appointment of ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy and his visits as stated in point 3 and 5 of the consensus.
In appointing the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair, it is critical for ASEAN to cooperate with the Myanmar government given the indepth understanding of Myanmar’s history and the reality of internal politics, and to make constructive proposals based on mutual understanding, mutual respect, fairness and equality in order to facilitate Myanmar’s efforts in implementing the five step future plan.
For the appointment of the very first Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair in 2021, ASEAN proposed the nominations of Mr. Virasakdi Futrakul, former deputy foreign minister of Thailand, Mr. Hassan Wirajuda, former foreign minister of Indonesia and Mr. Razali Ismail from Malaysia. The Myanmar Government sent a letter of approval on the appointment of Mr. Virasakdi Futrakul, former deputy foreign minister of Thailand as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on 6-7-2021. However, the 2021 ASEAN Chair changed the nomination of Special Envoy into Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam. Therefore, the appointment procedure of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair has been delayed due to the changes in nomination from ASEAN although Myanmar replied its approval of the former deputy foreign minister of Thailand.
Myanmar conveyed its official positions on the appointment of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair and highlighted that a Special Envoy shall not be a cabinet member of the Member State holding the ASEAN Chairmanship, the Special Envoy must be an independent person free from political influences in order to perform the duties freely. In this regard, Myanmar sent a letter of objection to the ASEAN Chair on the appointment of a foreign minister as the Special Envoy.
However, the list of previous nominees as the Special Envoy had been revoked at the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the name of Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam was presented as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair. In showing Myanmar’s cooperation with ASEAN in the implementation of the five point consensus as much as possible, Myanmar finally accepted the nomination of Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair at the separate meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers on 4-8-2021.
At the meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers, the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs of Myanmar reiterated three official positions of Myanmar in the appointment of Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair; (1) the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair must conduct official communications and work closely with the Myanmar government, (2) Myanmar will not accept new proposals beyond the five-point consensus, (3) the appointment and the role of the Special Envoy should be aligned with the ASEAN principles, particularly noninterference in the internal affairs of member states and ASEAN should uphold the core principle of making decisions through consensus. The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs of Myanmar requested the Chair of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to put on record of the above-mentioned Myanmar’s positions in the meeting minutes.
Q - How is Myanmar facilitating the implementation of the ASEAN five point consensus?
A - The Government of Myanmar has been in close cooperation with the Special Envoy of successive ASEAN Chairs for implementing the ASEAN fivepoint consensus while striving for the peace and tranqui lity in the country. The Five Point Roadmap of the State Administration Council has been laid down prior to the formulation of the five point consensus in order to restore the democracy in Myanmar. Moreover, the Chairman of the State Administration Council himself is leading the efforts for a lasting peace in the entire nation in line with the Five Point Roadmap. Those endeavours for peace by the State Administration Council clearly demonstrate the Myanmar Government’s commitment for the cessation of violance as mentioned as the point No. 1 of the five point consensus.
During the Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2022, Myanmar also accepted the appoint-ment of Mr. Prak Sokhonn, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Cambodia as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair. Myanmar facilitated the first visit of Mr. Prak Sokhoon to Myanmar from March 21 to 23, 2022 as well as his second visit from June 30 to July 2, 2022. During these visits, the Myanmar side arranged the meetings for the Special Envoy in order to meet with government officials, political parties and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) which were available for the meeting. Besides, the two visits of Dr. Kung Phoak, Head of the Office of the Special Envoy, were also facilitated by the Myanmar Government.
Considering Myanmar’s cooperation in the appointments of the Special Envoy and strenuous domestic efforts for achieving lasting peace, it is obvious that the Government of Myanmar has been actively implementing the important points of the five point consensus. Another significant progress in the implementation of the five point consensus is Myanmar Government’s cooperation at the States and Regions level for the provisions of the ASEAN humantarian assistance through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA) Centre.
The provisions of humantarian assistance to Myanmar through the AHA Centre have been implemented in two phases. The Myanmar Task Force led by the Union Minister for International Cooperation was established for facilitating the smooth policy coordination and practical delivery of executing the goals of the AHA Centre successfully on ground. As of now, the Phase 1 which is the provisions of lifesaving assistance has been successfully completed, and the Myanmar Government is in close cooperation with ASEAN for the Phase-2 which is the provisions of life substaining assistance. Thus, allegations of “no significant progress in implementing the ASEAN five point consensus” are unfounded, absolutely baseless and far away from the reality.
Q - Could you please explain how Myanmar continues to cooperate with ASEAN?
A - As a dutiful ASEAN Mem- ber State, Myanmar firmly stands on ASEAN norms and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and the ASEAN Community Vision Blueprints by fulfilling the membership obligations such as financial and institutional responsabilities.
Despite unilateral and unfair actions taken against Myanmar by a few ASEAN Member States through ASEAN mechanisms, Myanmar will continue working closely with all Member States in maintaining the region's peace and stability which is crucial for the region's economic development. Nevertheless, Myanmar will continue working with ASEAN family members to promote and strengthen ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN Unity.
Nowadays, regarding the internal affairs of Myanmar, unilateral and unfair actions and pressures have been taken against Myanmar by a few ASEAN Member States through ASEAN mechanisms which are beyond and against the provisions and fundamental principles of the ASEAN Charter. These unprecedented measures could severely affect the ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN Unity as well as the ASEAN credibility in the establishment of a rulesbased community. To prevent from the infiltration of great power rivalries and influences into the region, it is a crucial time for ASEAN to keep promoting the ASEAN Spirit, existing good practices and cordial relationship between ASEAN countries and among the peoples of ASEAN rather than advocating the self-interest and political ambitions of individual member states.
Since the inception of ASEAN, ASEAN has made a number of historic achievements towards regional peace, stability and prosperity over the past 55 years through maintaining the strong cooperation and unity among the countries in the region and promoting cohesiveness, harmony for economic and sociocultural developments. ASEAN countries must overco-me various challenges and difficulties by promoting the ASEAN Way, ASEAN Unity, ASEAN Spirit and the “Unity in Diversity” with the deeper understanding and appreciation of different political systems, economic development of each ASEAN Member States.
Myanmar will be consistently observing and complying with the ASEAN principles and procedures enshrined in the ASEAN and will be fully cooperating with ASEAN for the realisation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 with the Whole of Government Approach by effective coordination among different ministries and relevant agencies at the national level.
Therefore, it is proving that Myanmar is a responsible, proactive and constructive member of ASEAN, and it is an undeni-able fact that Myanmar has the capacity, capability, and motiva-tions to assume a greater role in ASEAN.