Analysts say that has left a conundrum for the new ASEAN chair, Indonesia: Continue to let Myanmar dictate its terms of engagement with the region or pressure the junta into ending its campaign of violence.
“We’re looking to Indonesia to rise to that challenge … will it be easy? Of course not, knowing principles of non-interference,” Pearson said.
ASEAN operates on a principle of cross-border non-interference—a value reflecting a politically complex region that spans communist dictatorships (Laos, Vietnam), military-steered quasi-democracies (Thailand, Cambodia) and Muslim-majority democracies (Malaysia, Indonesia).
“So, to do this will require a lot of attention from [Indonesian Foreign Minister] Retno Marsudi and I really hope for the sake of the people of Myanmar that Indonesia does rise to that challenge.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has repeatedly called for an end to bloodshed, leading the most vocal criticism of Myanmar’s junta within a regional bloc more prone to tepid statements on the internal affairs of member states.
Reputation on the line
Experts say the rebellion against Myanmar’s junta is fast lurching toward an outright civil war, which will have ramifications for all of Southeast Asia, possibly marring ASEAN’s credibility and threatening a dangerous spillover of instability.
“As its biggest and most consequential member, Indonesia's chairmanship is ASEAN's best hope to rein in Myanmar's bloody spiral from military coup to civil war,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of International Relations at Chulalongkorn University.
“But it will be a daunting task because the Myanmar junta has been intransigent, so far taking ASEAN for a ride.”