New UN Myanmar envoy prompts hope for breakthrough

Nolin Hezar will replace Christine Schraner Burgener, who was barred entry by the junta.

New UN Myanmar envoy prompts hope for breakthrough

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed Nolin Hezar as the new Special Envoy to Myanmar, and observers expressed optimism Wednesday that the Southeast Asian native’s fresh perspective could lead to a breakthrough in the country’s nine-month political crisis.

Hezar, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and a Singaporean, familiarized herself with Myanmar while chairing the U.N.’s Southeast Asia Regional Commission in the early 2000s. The 73-year-old former Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General on Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development in Timor had visited Myanmar several times prior to 2010 to assist people affected by Cyclone Nargis.

She will replace outgoing Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener, who had held talks with leaders—including junta chief Min Aung Hlaing—on the sidelines of an emergency summit convened in Jakarta by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April to address the situation in Myanmar amid crackdowns that followed the military’s Feb. 1 coup. A five-point consensus to end violence was agreed upon at that meeting which included giving a special envoy to Myanmar access to all political parties, but Schraner Burgener was ultimately barred from entering the country and will step down within the week.

The U.N. created the special envoy position in 2018 to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslims who were the target of a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state a year earlier, causing about 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh.

Moe Thuzar, a Southeast Asia expert, said Hezar—whose appointment was announced on Monday—is knowledgeable about the situation in Myanmar and the region in general, and believes she will be able to work with ASEAN to help resolve the political crisis that has unfolded in the nearly nine months since the military coup.

“Negotiations between ASEAN and the United Nations are still ongoing, and they should continue to coordinate with goodwill and in the interests of Myanmar,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“This is not a path that ASEAN is taking alone, nor a path paved by the United Nations alone. We will have to work in tandem with the international community.”

Ye Tun, a former political analyst and lawmaker, said the appointment of a special envoy from Singapore—an ASEAN member—underscores the U.N.’s special focus on helping Myanmar transition from a military coup to a functioning democracy.

“A citizen from Singapore, an ASEAN member, will be able to focus more on our country. She might come up with more ideas,” he said.

“Our country has already been sanctioned by ASEAN and [Min Aung Hlaing] was not invited to the ASEAN Summit for failing to implement its recent agreements and resolutions. I think the U.N. is paying more attention to our issue now.”

Barred from summit

In an unprecedented move earlier this month, ASEAN foreign ministers barred Min Aung Hlaing from the virtual ASEAN summit that kicked off Tuesday in Bandar Seri Begawan, saying he backtracked on the consensus that he had agreed to during the emergency meeting in April.

The snub was widely seen as an embarrassment to the junta, which on Tuesday issued a statement saying it was choosing not to attend because ASEAN had denied the military government representation.

Bo Hla Tint, the newly appointed special envoy to ASEAN for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), told RFA that further options for an envoy should be considered in case the military bars Hezar from visiting Myanmar.

“The former special envoys couldn’t do anything when the military refused them entry into the country,” he said.

“There won’t be any significant results just by appointing a new special envoy without a Plan B. If this is a preparatory move because there is word the junta might act along the five-point ASEAN agreement, we will have to wait and see.”

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA that if Hezar “acts impartially and fairly,” the military will cooperate with her, in accordance with U.N. conventions, but would “not accept any action taken with a political motive.”

“I want to say that it would be acceptable if [she] looks at the situation from all angles and acts in a balanced way,” he said.

“Otherwise, I would just say that it’d be difficult to make progress if they act with a political goal in mind as they had done in the past.”

Military cooperation essential

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, said the special envoy could be more effective at resolving the crisis because she is from an ASEAN nation, but added that she will not be able to succeed in her mission without the military’s cooperation.

“ASEAN’s changing stance [on Myanmar], cooperation with the West, and regional actions are all important and these factors would enable her to play a more active role,” he said.

“However, no matter how effectively she carries out her work, if the military is not really willing to solve the problem, she will not be very successful.”

Nearly nine months after the military’s Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,218 civilians and arrested at least 7,026, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

The junta says it unseated the National League for Democracy government because, they claimed, the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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ASEAN, Australia elevate strategic ties amid South China Sea tensions

Beijing is still waiting to hear from the Southeast Asian bloc about upgrading its own relationship.

ASEAN, Australia elevate strategic ties amid South China Sea tensions

Indo-Pacific players Australia and ASEAN agreed to upgrade their ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” the regional bloc’s chair said Wednesday, announcing the type of enhanced relationship with the grouping that China has been coveting since last year.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia elevated their relationship a month after some of the bloc’s members criticized the signing of the AUKUS pact, by which Washington and London will give Canberra technology for building nuclear-powered submarines.

Brunei, this year’s holder of ASEAN’s rotating chair, declared in a chairman’s statement that the two sides were now moving beyond a mere strategic relationship.

“We agreed to establish a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and Australia that is meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial,” the ASEAN chair said.

Australia and ASEAN first established a bilateral dialogue in 1974. 

“We were pleased with the steady progress in enhancing ASEAN-Australia Dialogue relations over the past 47 years, including in the implementation of the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership,” the ASEAN chair said.

Before Brunei issued the statement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke about the comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) as he led his country’s delegation in the inaugural ASEAN-Australia summit on Wednesday.

Canberra, he said, had proposed upgrading ties and “should ASEAN decide to agree to CSP, Australia is, of course, ready.”

“A CSP, though, is more than just a label. We will back it with substance that positions our partnership to address complex challenges in the future,” Morrison told his ASEAN counterparts.

Canberra will also provide A$124 million (U.S. $93.1 million) to fund projects, jointly identified by ASEAN and Australia, to address emerging challenges, he added. These include COVID-19 recovery, terrorism, transnational crime, energy security, and the transition to lower emissions technology.

China vis-a-vis ASEAN

Meanwhile, Beijing is still waiting to hear from ASEAN about China’s wish to elevate its partnership with the bloc, as it stated last year and reiterated in June. The Asian superpower is competing with the United States – and now also with the United Kingdom and Australia – to wield influence in a region that has become a theater in global geopolitics.

“China’s desire to upgrade bilateral relations reflects ASEAN’s long-standing economic and strategic importance to Beijing,” the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore think-tank, noted in an article it published last month.

At Tuesday’s China-ASEAN Summit, Beijing did not talk about upgrading relations. But it did sweeten the pot by offering “to jointly hold a summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the China-ASEAN dialogue relationship,” which President Xi Jinping may attend, according to some reports.

China’s proposal so far has been met with “a polite muted response” from ASEAN, said the article in the ISEAS publication.

“ASEAN fears that adopting it may be construed as taking sides” against Washington, it said, adding that any political or security relationship between China and the bloc would be subject to changing push-and-pull tensions to do with the South China Sea.

The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Waller (SSG 75), a Collins-class diesel-electric submarine, is seen in Sydney Harbor on Nov. 2, 2016. [AFP]

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Beijing is militarizing the South China Sea, which it considers its backyard.

It has stepped up its unabashed incursions into other claimant nations’ exclusive economic zones, used its maritime militia to harass fishermen in waters claimed by other countries and parked its survey ships in oil-rich zones in others’ waters.

Now, in the face of Washington’s accelerated freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, Beijing is looking for allies in Southeast Asia, but the region’s nations are wary despite China’s financial clout.

On Wednesday, during his address to the East Asia Summit, U.S. President Joe Biden “reiterated the U.S. commitment to the international rules-based order and expressed concern over threats to that order.”

“The United States will continue to stand with allies and partners in support of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of the seas,” Biden said, according to a White House statement.

The East Asia Summit is an Indo-Pacific dialogue forum made up of the 10 ASEAN member-states, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Russia.  


None of these issues was a factor between ASEAN and Australia, although the trilateral AUKUS pact has been a source of heartburn for some of the bloc’s member-states.

Neither ASEAN nor Australia’s Morrison shied away from addressing the pact between Australia, the U.S., and U.K. that was announced on Sept. 15. 

AUKUS is thought to be designed to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea.

AUKUS’s three maritime democracies did not mention China. They said the pact would enable them to strengthen support for each other’s security and defense interests and “help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

But Indonesia and Malaysia were unhappy about the pact, saying it would foster an arms race – perhaps a nuclear one – in Southeast Asia. The Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam were more upbeat about AUKUS. ASEAN, which works by consensus, could not agree on a joint statement about the pact.

PM Morrison and other top Australian officials spoke over the phone and met in person with ASEAN leaders and ministers, to reassure them that Canberra was aware of its commitment on nuclear non-proliferation and believed in ASEAN centrality in Southeast Asia.

On Wednesday, the ASEAN chair’s statement said the bloc welcomed “Australia’s continued support and reaffirmation for ASEAN centrality” and its commitment to regional peace, stability, and security.

Among individual ASEAN member-states, Indonesia reiterated its concern but also said it fully supported the new, upgraded relationship that the bloc has forged with Australia.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said arrangements such as AUKUS must “not complicate our working methods for cooperation.”

For his part, Australia’s Morrison told ASEAN that AUKUS reinforces the backing that Canberra has for an ASEAN-led regional architecture.

“AUKUS adds to our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security,” he said Wednesday.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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