Myanmar’s Chairmanship of ASEAN: Challenges and Opportunities
This essay examines the role of Myanmar as the 2014 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and assesses the impact of recent developments on the agenda during its chairmanship, including the prospects for realizing the ASEAN Community in 2015.
Given the fragile state of the country’s transition, chairing ASEAN for the first time is more challenging for Myanmar than it was for any of the other nine members. Yet Myanmar’s national agenda closely parallels ASEAN’s goals for 2014–15. While the tasks of the chairmanship are daunting, the extent to which Naypyidaw can skillfully navigate the myriad challenges of its political and socioeconomic reforms will have an important bearing on ASEAN’s own efforts to build the ASEAN Community.
Consolidating democratic reforms and promoting human rights are priorities for both Myanmar and ASEAN. Member states should thus lend their support to Myanmar’s political reforms, even beyond its chairmanship in 2014.
Myanmar’s initiation of peace talks with the country’s armed ethnic groups is significant for developing national and regional capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts. Success in getting the peace talks off the ground and concluding a new peace agreement by the end of 2015 would not only boost Myanmar’s confidence as chair but also open the space for continued engagement on the plight of other marginalized communities such as the Rohingya.
How Myanmar steers ASEAN’s external relations during its chairmanship is particularly significant because of the country’s close linkages with China. Given the recent history of disagreement among member states over the South China Sea issue, Myanmar’s skillful diplomacy is critical for maintaining ASEAN solidarity under the pressure of great‑power politics.