Can ASEAN Achieve Peace in Myanmar? - A Review of the Five Point Consensus
Dr Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

Myanmar military on 01 February 2021 overthrew the democratically elected government and announced a state of emergency in the country. ASEAN as a regional organisation soon responded to the crisis that surfaced in 2021. On 24 April 2021, ASEAN leaders met in Jakarta to discuss various issues, including the situation in Myanmar. They reached an agreement called the Five Point Consensus (FPC). It has been three years since the agreement on FPC, but ASEAN as a regional organisation and its FPC, have faced criticism for failing to bring a modicum of normalcy in Myanmar. The provisions of FPC also have been criticised for being just diplomatic statements rather than offering any practical solutions. Here, we'll examine each provision of the FPC and offer suggestions to ensure its effective implementation.

The first provision of the ASEAN FPC, which called for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, has been unsuccessful. Both sides of the conflict have continued fighting, leading to intensified violence in recent months. According to UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, there has been a significant increase in military airstrikes targeting civilians over the past five months. This has resulted in approximately 2.7 million people being displaced, with another million expected to be displaced by the end of 2024.

The second provision of the ASEAN FPC, which called for constructive dialogue among all parties in Myanmar, has faced significant challenges. Both the opposition parties and the military regime have adamantly refused to engage in dialogue. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly expressed his determination to eradicate any opposition to his leadership. The regime has labelled key opposition entities such as the National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF), as terrorist organisations. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been transferred from prison to house arrest, remains under a 27-year sentence on various charges. Many other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) have been arrested or detained under counterterrorism laws targeting opposition politicians. Moreover, the military regime has introduced regulations to exclude NLD members from the electoral process, including dissolving over 40 political parties, including the NLD, for failing to meet registration requirements. Although the regime has extended invitations for peace talks to ethnic armed groups, these efforts have been ineffective.

To implement this second provision, Indonesia, as the chair in 2023, made efforts to engage with the National Unity Government (NUG) and other stakeholders, conducting a total of 110 meetings. However, Myanmar's military criticised ASEAN's decision to engage with opposition groups, including the NUG. Initially, the NUG expressed support for ASEAN's engagement and advocated for expanding the Five-Point Consensus (FPC). However, it later rejected Indonesia's call for "inclusive dialogue," stating that it had no intention to negotiate with the military. The NUG also urged the international community not to endorse Indonesia's proposed "inclusive dialogue" solution. It is worth noting that while individual ASEAN member countries have engaged with the NUG, ASEAN as an organisation has not officially done so. For example, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah became the first ASEAN minister to publicly meet with a NUG minister.

The third and fourth provisions stated that there should be a special envoy and a delegation should visit Myanmar to engage with all parties. These provisions have been implemented but with limited success. ASEAN chairs Brunei, Cambodia, and Indonesia in 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively, excluded Myanmar's military foreign minister from meetings and sought to pressure the military to adhere to the Five-Point Consensus (FPC). However, progress has been minimal. Under Indonesia's chairmanship, two summits were held where ASEAN reaffirmed the FPC as the primary framework for addressing the crisis and advocated for constructive dialogue. However, ASEAN's approach became divided in 2023, with Thailand holding consultations with Myanmar's military representatives and engaging with Aung San Suu Kyi outside the ASEAN framework. Under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's leadership, Thailand has shifted its policy towards Myanmar, moving away from previous support for the military and fully committing to implementing ASEAN's FPC.

In a bid to increase pressure on Myanmar, ASEAN leaders decided to deny Myanmar its turn of the rotating presidency of ASEAN in 2026 and established a troika system involving Indonesia, Malaysia, and Laos to address the crisis in Myanmar. Myanmar's increasing isolation was evident at the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Retreat, where it sent a non-political representative for the first time since the 2021 coup. With Laos chairing ASEAN in 2024, the country appointed Alounkeo Kittikhoun as a special envoy to Myanmar. In January 2024, Alounkeo met with Min Aung Hlaing to discuss various peace initiatives.

Finally, the fifth provision of providing humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre has seen limited success. ASEAN has delivered medical supplies and equipment worth USD 1.1 million to the Myanmar Red Cross Society, and individual countries have initiated their own humanitarian efforts. However, concerns persist regarding the effectiveness and distribution of aid, particularly as it may only reach areas controlled by the Myanmar military. Myanmar faces extreme access constraints for humanitarian aid, including challenges in people's access to aid, humanitarian organisations' access to those in need, and security and physical constraints. Additionally, legal barriers, such as the Organisation Registration Law passed by the Myanmar military, hinder humanitarian efforts. Additionally, UNOCHA's report also highlighted that Myanmar ranked second globally in the number of aid workers killed and fourth in the number injured in 2022.

Even though ASEAN statements reaffirm the FPC as a primary reference, it acknowledges the FPC's incomplete implementation. In November 2022 and September 2023, the ASEAN member states reviewed the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (RDI-5PC), which served as an extension of the FPC. They condemned the ongoing violence in Myanmar and acknowledged that substantial progress has not been made. They also agreed on flexible and informal engagement with stakeholders, particularly the NUG, which should be facilitated by the ASEAN special envoy. However, there is concern about the lack of progress by the Myanmar authorities in implementing the FPC. Even the Human Rights Watch and the International Parliamentary Inquiry have called for an overhaul of Southeast Asian governments' response to Myanmar's military, citing the ineffectiveness of the FPC. Furthermore, both in 2022 and 2023 at the RDI-5PC, ASEAN leaders emphasised the importance of collaboration with the UN, ASEAN dialogue partners, and the international community to support the FPC's implementation. At the 2023 RDI-5PC, they specifically focussed on including neighbouring countries to address the crisis and its impacts.

As the crisis enters its fourth year, here are a few suggestions which can help ASEAN implement the FPC. First, ASEAN must continue mediating between all parties involved in Myanmar's peace process, including the NUG and other EAOs. Here, it is important to reassess the role of ASEAN Special Envoy. Indonesia established the Office of the Special Envoy in Jakarta to engage stakeholders. Here institutionalising the envoy’s role with clear terms of reference and appointing a diplomat beyond the chair's tenure could enhance continuity and effectiveness. Second, ASEAN should expand its engagement beyond its member states and include regional stakeholders to tackle the Myanmar crisis. Bringing in neighbouring countries like India, China, and Bangladesh alongside ASEAN could offer a suitable platform to address the crisis, given its regional implications.

Finally, to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people in Myanmar, it is essential to form alliances and collaborate to create humanitarian corridors. UN Special Envoy Dr. Noeleen Heyzer stressed on the importance of a unified regional approach to end violence and establish protective measures for vulnerable populations in Myanmar. ASEAN is urged to engage in discussions regarding regional refugee protection and to monitor violence in the region. Given their proximity to Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia hold significant roles in this effort. Additionally, India, Bangladesh, and China could join ASEAN nations in establishing corridors to support humanitarian initiatives. The National Unity Government (NUG) has also proposed an alternative plan, involving cooperation with local civil society organisations to deliver assistance to areas controlled by ethnic resistance groups.

Implementing these measures promptly could help mitigate the violence and instability in Myanmar. However, if ASEAN leaders fail to make progress with the FPC, they may need to reconsider their relationship with Myanmar and consider more decisive actions against the military regime. To conclude, it is well accepted that the current crisis in Myanmar is due to internal challenges. Therefore, there is a need for a "Myanmar-owned and led solution" as stated by ASEAN foreign ministers, during a meeting in Laos in 2024.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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