ASEAN’s New Approach to Myanmar

NEW YORK – The recent decision by Myanmar’s government to sentence pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months’ house arrest shows how difficult it is to deal with that country’s ruling generals. Yet the first steps toward a new approach may already have been taken.

The clearest sign comes from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member. At first, most of ASEAN’s member governments responded mildly to the verdict, expressing their “disappointment” – a stance that reflects the group’s principle of noninterference in fellow members’ internal politics.

But Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya then consulted his counterparts in Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. As current ASEAN chair, he floated the idea of concertedly requesting a pardon for Aung San Suu Kyi.

ASEAN government officials have since met to draft a text. Approval by the association’s foreign ministers may come in September, with ASEAN leaders tackling the issue in October.