Laos is taking over the chairmanship of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next year, which offers Thailand the chance to help its neighbour address Myanmar issues, observers say.
Speaking recently at the Asean-Myanmar landscape session at the 7th Asean Media Forum 2023 at the Asean Headquarters in Jakarta, Panitan Wattanayagorn, former adviser to the National Security Council of Thailand and an expert on international relations and security, said Thailand could work with Laos on a variety of fronts.
“It is up to Laos’ leaders to make a decision as to what kind of help assistance they need,” Mr Panitan said, adding Thailand could not boss its neighbour about.
Mr Panitan proposed setting up a UN-style liaison office along the Thailand-Myanmar border as a coordinating centre to exchange information on Myanmar issues so that officials from the three countries could work more closely on the Myanmar crisis.
Thailand and Laos share borders with Myanmar. Refusing to work with Myanmar’s State Administrative Council (SAC) may not be option. Asean can work with SAC on both humanitarian assistance and ceasefire and security issues. Constructive dialogue and engagement instead of confrontation would be the most effective means to address the Myanmar crisis, he said.
“We [Asean] must do more, more than we did in the past to help solve the Myanmar crisis,” Mr Panitan said.
Each day many people in Myanmar are suffering from internal fighting. Some lost their lives, family members and friends. Asean, he said, needs to call for a ceasefire between Myanmar military forces and ethnic minority groups.
Mr Panitan said Thailand has a long border with Myanmar so is the most affected by issues, such as the migration of Myanmar refugees affected by internal fighting in the country. Many are waiting to be resettled in the United States and Australia.
They flee across the Thai-Myanmar border to seek shelter in rural villages in Thai-Myanmar border provinces such as Tak and Mae Hong Son whenever Myanmar military forces and ethnic minority groups exchange fire.
Mr Panitan said the Myanmar issues remain challenging, and Asean must show determination in addressing them. “We need to help our friend, Myanmar,” he said.
Panitan: Asean can work with SAC
Sayakane Sisouvong, former deputy secretary-general of Asean and president of the Lao Diplomatic Club, said he is delighted Laos is taking up the chairmanship of Asean next year.
Laos itself will need to find ways to bridge the diverse interests among Asean countries on regional concerns especially the Myanmar crisis. However, Mr Sayakane said the international community also should help Laos address the Myanmar crisis.
Progress on five-point consensus
Meanwhile, Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke about what Indonesia has done to solve the Myanmar issue during its Asean chairmanship this year.
Ms Marsudi said Asean should be grateful that the region has been blessed by peace and stability for more than five decades. This is no small feat amid sharpening major power rivalries elsewhere, a more divided world, food and energy crises and wars.
Internally, Asean has Myanmar issue to deal with, she said. She said it is regrettable there hasn’t been as much progress on the five-point consensus on tackling the political crisis.
The consensus calls for: 1) The immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar; 2) constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people; 3) mediation to be facilitated by an envoy of Asean’s chair, with assistance of the secretary-general; 4) humanitarian assistance provided by the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management and 5) a visit by the special envoy and delegation to Myanmar to meet all parties concerned.
“As mandated by the [Asean] Summit, we will continue to push for the consensus. Efforts for a wider dialogue have been made.
“We will make sure humanitarian access continues to expand, including in areas of active conflicts. Our focus is always on the people of Myanmar,” she said.
Indonesia’s chairmanship aimed to address all these challenges, she said. “We need an Asean that is agile enough to address such challenges. Asean can maintain South East Asia as an epicentre of growth,” she said.
Marsudi: Expand access to aid
About the forum
This year’s the 7th Asean Media Forum underlined the important role of the media in Asean regional integration, amid the accomplishments of Indonesia’s Asean chairmanship in 2023 themed “Asean Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”.
The forum, organised by the Asean Secretariat with support from the German government through the Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, was attended by more than 40 Asean media leaders.
Asean Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn said the prominent role of the media in enhancing awareness, promoting understanding and correcting misperceptions of Asean’s integration agenda extends within and beyond Asean.
“As Asean moves towards greater cohesion and integration, a well-informed and engaged people is an asset to the region,” said Mr Kao.