Free Burma! — Cat got ASEAN tongue
Today is the day where bloggers all over the world are urged to post one blog entry for Burma. The day is almost over and I am still puzzled on how to write my thoughts down. Not that I don’t have anything to write. I have some issues to write, but am really confused on where to begin and how to write everything down. Mostly, because I don’t know whether I would contribute anything to the current discourse. But anyway, here I am trying to write something.
Come to think about Burma and the ongoing military cracks down on pro-democracy movement, one may question what could be done in this situation. Many other questions also arise. What would happen? Would the UN be able to find any solution? Do sanctions do any good in this situation? What can foreign governments do to help? Some scholars say that not much can be done, the way out can only be created if the junta is willing to work together with the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi — but this is very unlikely to happen.
China and India are mentioned to be two countries that have most influence. Unfortunately, none of these countries seem to be willing to put force on the current regime of Burma. It’s obvious there’s not much world can expect from China. It goes easy on Burmese sluggish dictatorship, because China itself is big in dictatorship. It’s just easy for China to maintain its foreign policy of cold economic calculation. Sad and ironic, the largest democracy in the world, India, too, has remained in silence. Apparently regardless their differences in political system, both countries are power-hungry and are interested more on exploiting Burma’s huge oil and gas resources.
And more ironic, West imposed sanctions and stepped up pressure in fact has only been boosting Burma military junta’s relations with and dependence to India and China.
Within this constellation, there’s one actor that supposedly is able to have more to say. Yes, ASEAN. Where is ASEAN in this chaotic situation? We surely have heard that ASEAN has urged China and India to persuade Burma to move toward democracy. But, really, what ASEAN has been doing?
ASEAN, as always, does too little to be important in the eye of international community. Today, this organization does nothing and claims cannot do anything. True, ASEAN doesn’t have as much influence as China and India. However, saying that ASEAN cannot do much because “Myanmar is a member; we cannot be nasty to our own brothers and sisters” indicates a misleading use of the term “ASEAN solidarity”. How about human rights code?
But there’s nothing new here. For such a long time, as long as the Burma/Myanmar’s ASEAN membership, ASEAN leaders never really exercise the practices of protecting human rights of people in its region. Remember East Timor? ASEAN did nothing on this issue. Despite international clamor for ASEAN to act on the issue of East Timor independence and Burma political repression, the ASEAN states chose to remain officially uninvolved. Yet, ASEAN did deliver a very clear statement of a collective position on human rights (see the Singapore declaration, 1993).
It seems that everything else — human rights and freedom of expressions — are superseded by the “principles of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states” (Bangkok Declaration, 1993). However, the non-interference principle, which is belonged to the “ASEAN norms”, has been implemented as simply doing nothing to embarrass each other — “save each other’s face”.
History shows that the obligation to protect “ASEAN norms”, particularly the non-interference principle, has become a stumbling block for ASEAN’s potentials for pushing socio-political transformation in the region.
If this what is called “ASEAN norm”, then we would rather not have it, wouldn’t we?
Having said that, I don’t have any prescription to offer. I just am convinced that socio-political environment in ASEAN remains dull for facilitating any changes for better governance. If we go to the list of ASEAN states, it’s clear than most authorities in these places remain unsympathetic to liberal democracy, with perhaps a little light on Indonesia, the Philippines and (yes) Cambodia. Thus we in fact shouldn’t waver in their actions.
What can we do? Just I said earlier, I have no answer to offer. We indeed learn that the hope is not located in this kind of formal collective body in the region such as ASEAN. Perhaps, our hope is located within informal networks of concerned individuals and groups who believe in the protection of human rights and freedom of expression. We see no light in the case of Burma for now, but as long as we keep our hope, perhaps someday we can see the light.