ASEAN was founded as a dictator’s club in the fight against communism at the height of the cold war. A non-interference clause was necessary because each country had its own strongman leader that ignored democracy and ruled absolutely.
For the entirety of its existence, the non-interference clause has served the various leaders of the ASEAN nations well. Whether turning a blind eye to genocide in Myanmar, Cambodia or Indonesia, or ignoring the violent repression of the people by the regimes in the Philippines and Thailand, ASEAN has always and continues to be a dictator’s club.
On Sunday, the Myanmar junta led a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators leaving scores dead, many of then unarmed and including women and children.
In response, the members of ASEAN urged caution. Indonesia, the largest economy in the bloc, had the following to say:
“Indonesia urges the security forces to refrain from the use of force and exercise utmost restraint to avoid further casualties,” the foreign ministry said.
Jakarta also said it was “deeply concerned” with growing violence in the country.
The statements made by Indonesia echoed other statements put forth by ministers and leaders from across the region. “Deeply concerned,” “worried,” and other euphemisms filled the pages. A lot was said with little substance.
But this is not new for the people of ASEAN. In fact it is normal.
The bloc has stood idly by while military coups usurp power in Myanmar and Thailand, stood idly by as a bloody drug war ravages the Philippines, and will stand idly by should the situation in West Papua spiral out of control.
There is a cancer of totalitarianism in the region and ASEAN is its biggest abettor.