Opinion: Bringing Myanmar’s dictator to ASEAN summit spells death blow for the bloc

This coming Saturday Myanmar dictator, mass murderer, and coupmaker Min Aung Hlaing will travel to Indonesia to attend the annual ASEAN summit.

It marks the first foreign trip for the general since he took power in a military coup on February 1.

Since then, his security forces have killed nearly 1,000 people, mostly peaceful protesters, and waged war on various ethnic groups that oppose his seizure of power.

But to ASEAN, it does not matter that this child-killer and would-be despot has the blood of his people on his hands. It seems that it is business as usual as far as they are concerned.

Despite encouraging statements made by ‘senior’ ASEAN members like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines about the need to restore peace and calls to release detained political prisoners, the truth is that ASEAN has become a dictator’s club once again.

Its members will, just as it has done since its founding, will tolerate any crime, justify the actions of any regional ally, in a bid to maintain its semblance of cohesion and unity for no apparent gain.

Posters featuring military chief General Min Aung Hlaing are placed on the road during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 9, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) /

It has come to the point where questions must be asked, what is the use of ASEAN in the 21st century?

If the answer is to better foster trade ties, that argument is moot. With the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the various bilateral and multilateral trade agreements already in place between various ASEAN members, ASEAN as a trading bloc is an ineffective, uninspiring failure.

The ASEAN Economic Community, long touted to be South East Asia’s version of the European Union, has largely fallen flat. The goals of the AEC have not been met and the lofty ambitions of the free movement of goods and labour have been met with non-tariff barriers and other local hindrances.

If the answer to ASEAN’s continued existence is to serve as a political bloc to counter the influence of regional and global superpowers, the bloc falls short on this aspect as well.

The members of ASEAN is certainly not countering China’s growing influence – even in its own backyard and on issues that are of vital importance to some members.

Take the South China Sea for instance, any meaningful attempt to gain leverage by negotiating as a bloc has failed and will continue to fail because of vetoes from China-bought Cambodia and Laos. That means the interests of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the South China Sea cannot be represented by the bloc.

So what is exactly the point of ASEAN? Other than an excuse to legitimize would-be dictators and needlessly spending public expenditure, probably nothing.

What Min Aung Hlaing craves most by going to Jakarta this Saturday is legitimacy. The world has condemned multiple times the actions of his government and through sanctions and statements have made clear that his conduct is unacceptable to the international community.

By choosing to recognize the despot’s government and inviting him to participate in the ASEAN summit, the bloc has effectively recognized one leader and delegitimized the international standings of nine others.

Inviting and bringing Min to Indonesia is the death blow for this useless, ineffective group of nincompoops.

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