The recently concluded ASEANsummit in Myanmar has ended in a bitter note. Myanmar, being a close ally of China, did not raise the most potential issue involving South China Sea dispute in the event which lead to heated exchange among ASEANmembers. Although some ASEAN countries who have a high stake in this regional dispute were expecting a way forward to the CoC, the ground reality was quite different as Myanmar wanted to avoid the same. Being the Chair of ASEAN, it was great opportunity for Myanmar to address the SCS issue at some level. But ignoring it could be disastrous for ASEAN in the long run.INTRODUCTION:
The recently concluded ASEAN summit in Myanmar has ended in a bitter note. Myanmar, being a close ally of China, did not raise the most potential issue involving South China Sea dispute in the event which lead to heated exchange among ASEAN members. Although some ASEAN countries who have a high stake in this regional dispute were expecting a way forward to the CoC, the ground reality was quite different as Myanmar wanted to avoid the same. Being the Chair of ASEAN, it was great opportunity for Myanmar to address the SCS issue at some level. But ignoring it could be disastrous for ASEAN in the long run.
The ASEAN summit, which ended early this week, has now created a division among the ASEAN members and other partner countries. The reason is not taking a decision on most pressing issue of the region in which almost half of the ASEAN members are involved in a maritime dispute with China over the South China Sea issue.
Yet, the summit mentioned security situation in North Korea and other less important issues to figure as top agenda for the attending delegates, where as there was no mention of maritime challenges in South China Sea.
There was an escalating tension in South China Sea since end of April but the ASEAN could not agree on voicing concern regarding the issue in any manner.
Now this is being viewed as a weakness of ASEAN to protect the interests of its members and ensuring peace and stability for the region which is the main crossing point of global trade and commerce. Privately some ASEAN members now doubt the ability of Myanmar to provide any leadership at this critical juncture to this global body which is becoming prone to instability and uncertainty.
The ASEAN members are also thinking that if Myanmar repeats the same in other events of ASEAN, which will take place this year, then the outcome could be that of the Chairmanship of Cambodia in 2012 where the ASEAN in its 45 years of history failed to issue a joint communiqué.
Myanmar needs to remember that its future will be better protected with ASEAN and others but tilting unilaterally towards a particular country will put the decades of stigma back on the face.
In fact, this was a right forum for Myanmar to get rid of the old tag of being a ‘paw’ but vested interests probably interrupted the process and stopped the country to take an independent stand. In the past, Myanmar has always taken strong stand and never got into the bamboo policy of its neighborhood.
Just before the ASEAN summit, Myanmar was beating the drum that it will do its best to resolve the SCS dispute but when the correct time came it didn’t even bother to mention the issue.
With this act of Myanmar, which was quite brazen, has made some ASEAN member and their partners to rethink about Myanmar’s ability to provide leadership to ASEAN. They also regret that whether it was right decision to award the Chairmanship to Myanmar.
The South China Sea is a hot topic for everybody who lives in this region but why ASEAN did not want to discuss it is a mystery. Now if any conflict breaks out in future in SCS, the ASEAN unity will be in jeopardy. No one should be in doubt about it.
Therefore a stable ASEAN with strong cooperation and greater unity would ensure the interests of its members and peace and development or the whole region.
To deny the reality could be suicidal when the threat is at its doorstep.