As its international prestige and diplomatic relevance are thrown into question, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must show the world it can rein in the rogue member state in its pack.
When the Armed Forces of Myanmar (or Burma, depending on where you stand) staged a coup d’état against the country’s freshly elected government in February last year, the initial response from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was muted. While the West quickly condemned the junta, most Southeast Asian nations described this as an “internal affair” and embraced a hands-off approach. This was not unexpected, given that most countries in ASEAN are not democratic—not to mention its founding member Thailand, whose current government came to power after a military coup in 2014, was eyeing yet another coup to quell antigovernment protests as recently as 2020.
But as the Tatmadaw, as the Burmese military is known, began firing on protestors, Southeast Asian leaders soon realized this wasn’t just another relatively bloodless coup as often seen in neighboring Thailand. Pressured and entrusted by the international community to play a central role in mediating the crisis, ASEAN held talks with the military in early March, urging all sides to “refrain from instigating further violence” but stopping short of condemning the deadly crackdown on protestors—true to the bloc’s tradition of low-key and non-confrontational diplomacy, which has earned ASEAN the labels of being “weak,” “ineffective,” and even “non-existent.”