“Liberal Democracy Can Help Asean Over Superpower Rivalry”

MYANMAR (Eleven Media Group / Asia News Network): A united ideology can uplift ASEAN to better handle superpower rivalry, regional crises and meet the aspirations of its citizens, said two Thai regional experts.

Kasit Piromya, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Supalak Ganjanakhundee, independent researcher, advocate “liberal democracy” as a new belief shared by ASEAN and which, they say, is the only option to bring peace and stability to Myanmar in crisis.

The two were speaking last Thursday at the third round of Thai foreign policy webinars on “The Future of ASEAN and the Myanmar Crisis”, jointly hosted by the Surin Pisuwan Foundation, the School of Public Policy of Chiang Mai University, Thai PBS and Asia News Network. The session was moderated by Faudi Pisuwan of SPF.

The other two panelists were Kavi Chongkittavorn, former editor of the Myanmar Times, and Sirada Khemanitthathai, from the Faculty of Political Science at Chiang Mai University.

Kasit pushed the conventional wisdom that Asean was founded 54 years ago on the basis of “regional security interests” toward a common ideology or common belief to oppose communism and domino theory.

“Now it’s under stress. It is squeezed on two fronts. One is the ideology and political systems at the ends of the two superpowers. The other is the pressure on the leaders of ASEAN, from the bottom up, from its citizens who aspire to live in a free society with rights. “

He said liberal democracy is the only option in the future for the 10 ASEAN members, if it is to remain relevant in world affairs.

The view of Kasit, a former Thai foreign ministry official turned politician, was echoed by Supalak, who proposed that Thailand launch what he called a “complex pledge” to help ASEAN. to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

Such a complex engagement with Myanmar would imply non-coercion, open exchange and dialogue with all stakeholders and, most importantly, shared liberal values ​​of “free politics, free market and guaranteed rights of the people”.

“These values ​​must be embedded in our foreign policy to address these issues,” said Supalak, former editor of The Nation.

Sirada hailed Asean’s omission of Myanmar’s ruling military leader at the recent summit as setting a new standard for the bloc.

Kavi said Asean should be commended for surviving for more than 50 years of the Cold War era, economic crises, SARS and now for continuing the post-Covid recovery and efforts to end it. the crisis in Myanmar.

He added that ASEAN members have intervened among the membership all the time, but that may not be in a way that many understand.

“For Thailand, it has a lot of limits but it’s our strong point. If we are too open, we will end up with a lot of enemies.

Kasit said the reinvention of Asean, as well as Thailand’s role, had not been sufficiently considered or discussed. He divided the life of the regional bloc into three periods, each linked to a common ideology or belief.

The first was the founding in 1967, with a shared vision to oppose communism and not to accept the domino theory. This proved to be a huge success, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and ASEAN gained worldwide recognition.

The second was the emergence of modern global connectivity, followed by globalization. ASEAN joined the process of globalization under global rules, especially within the framework of the WTO, and ASEAN shared a common aspiration to become the regional production center, at the heart of the supply chain.

At the same time, ASEAN sought to achieve peaceful coexistence by putting an end to regional conflicts. As a result, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia entered the bloc, bringing the membership to 10, he said.

Members came together to develop the master plan on connectivity, including cross-border facilitation, a kind of common market, acceptance of professional certifications, from medicine to accounting. The results have been the free flow of money and workers, goods and services.

ASEAN or its leaders now have the binding obligation to decide the role of the bloc. ASEAN is also bound by its obligations to the UN on human rights, children, the political system, Kasit said, adding that none of these issues prevailed in 1967 or 1991.

Now he has an obligation to democracy and people-centered politics through his conduct, as well as that with the UN. There is an obligation to the people, who are fed up with an authoritarian regime, whether through personalities, like the former Philippine President Marcos, or the military, like the former Indonesian President Suharto or many elders. prime ministers of Thailand, Kasit said.

All of this played into Asean’s disunited response to the Myanmar crisis. “Now it is about democracy and the rights of the people. The split developed, following the February 1 coup in Myanmar, between conservatives, led by Asean members such as Brunei and the authoritarian majority of the Philippines, and Thailand, in a lesser extent, or the one-party regime, like Singapore, although it has excellent governance.

Kasit said that he and several of his political colleagues from ASEAN and internationally, including Cambodian political opposition in exile Sam Rainsy, had come together to propose a revolution in the structure of ASEAN.

For the past 50 years, ASEAN has had few membership requirements compared to the EU, which stipulates that all members must be subject to a democratic system, respect the rights of the people and practice good governance. ASEAN has only one charter and its UN commitments. “Now, with the choice between China and the public companies of the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, these become an imperative choice,” he urged.

“We must therefore think about how to rebuild Asean as a democratic society, that is to say that all members have 10 years to become a democracy, a revision of the charter, so that it serves the democratic values ​​and practices, such as an Asean judicial tribunal, the Asean parliament, such as the EU parliament and an Asean civil platform, to verify the rules and regulations, ”Kasit proposed.

Without deepening structure and unity, the Thai diplomat said ASEAN would not be able to resolve the type of Burmese crisis because it would not be able to agree on major issues, only of the smallest. He will not be able to penalize or sanction members who have committed a major offense.

“It comes down to the need to have a common ideology towards democracy,” he concluded.

ASEAN is also expected to redefine the three major agreements it signed, to help manage the superpower rivalry. They include the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and the Zone of Peace and Freedom.

These would contribute to the centrality of Asean, like Quad and AUKUS, “which are currently flying over our heads and we do not know how to position ourselves”.

ASEAN is known to have conducted quiet diplomacy on crises over the years in and between member countries. This includes Aceh and East Timo.

“As regional problems have implications and spillover effects on the unity of ASEAN and its image,” he added.