The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is yet to disapprove of the February 1, 2021, coup in Myanmar and to condemn the military junta in Yangon. In protest of the inaction by the regional leaders, pro-democracy activists have over and over again burned the ASEAN flag on the streets in Yangon. This article by Jasmine Chia and Scott Singer is published by The Diplomat. Here is an excerpt:
Throughout the month of June, the ASEAN flag has been burned over and over again in the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. It is evidence of the deep dissatisfaction among Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement with the regional body’s lack of action against Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s coup government, which seized power on February 1, 2021. In barbed language directed at ASEAN, Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) tweeted: “If you don’t know the answer to this, there is no way you should keep saying ‘ASEAN Centrality’… you are doing more harm to us.”
Frustration of this kind has dogged ASEAN throughout its history: the regional organization always seems to be doing too little, in a region where governments act regularly with impunity. However, the overwhelming focus on ASEAN – both in Myanmar and abroad – has been misplaced. Regional experts consider ASEAN the primary regional institution because it is recognized as such by governments both within and outside of the region. But ASEAN was never designed for the interventionist measures required to truly secure regional peace.
More fundamentally, scholars and commentators have failed to look beyond formal regional institutions to competing regional logics that can be as powerful – if not more so – in a crisis like the one facing Myanmar. There are symbolic, ideological, and aspirational dimensions of securing regional peace that can come from grassroots organizations that have similarly regional impact.
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