The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was established in 1967 with five member countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Myanmar became the eighth Asean member in 1997.
Seventeen years later, the fundamental principle of Asean remains non-interference in
internal affairs among member countries.
Consequently, member countries rarely voice strong opinions against other member countries.
As a result, Asean rarely influences member countries.
For example, the grouping has never issued an effective statement on human rights abuses and the political situation in Myanmar, which until recently was a dictatorship.
It still shies away from issuing strong warnings against authoritarian member countries or oppression. As a result, there is lack of trust in Asean.
Myanmar took the rotating chair of Asean this year for the first time.
After taking the chairmanship, it became responsible for solving Asean regional issues and maintaining a balance between Asean’s position and the world’s most powerful countries.
However, Myanmar has thousands of issues to solve.
The duties of Asean chairmanship are a huge responsibility for a country that is the poorest in the region and with the lowest individual income, high levels of corruption and mismanagement.
The country has not been able to put an end to riots, and the signing of a national ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups is still delayed.
Asean has not found a path
to solve the development and income gap between member countries, which is the main hindrance for establishing the Asean community.
Myanmar is also viewed as a country influenced by China, and it did not stand firmly on the side of Asean countries in the South China Sea dispute.
The Philippines and Vietnam have expressed their disappointment with Myanmar over this issue.
Myanmar must solve internal issues like civil wars, communal violence, and high levels of corruption.
If not, questions may be raised about its ability to solve bigger international issues as an Asean chair.