After G-20 summit, Jokowi should shift focus to Myanmar: Jakarta Post contributor

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The upcoming Group of 20 (G-20) Summit, which will be held in Bali in early November, has been sapping the energy and attention of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February, which has directly impacted the course of the gathering.

The daunting challenge facing Indonesia’s G-20 presidency has apparently forced Jokowi to temporarily set aside the Myanmar cause. Jokowi had been seeking to marshal Asean support to put pressure on the military junta to end its barbaric acts against civilians and the infant democracy in the country.

To show his leadership, Jokowi is taking grand measures, including a visit to Ukraine and Russia this week in a bid, among other goals, to ensure that all leaders of the G-20 states attend the Bali gathering and, if possible, to persuade Putin to ease the blockade on Ukraine so that it can export its much-needed wheat to the world.

Jokowi’s peace mission to Kyiv and Moscow received the blessing of the Group of Seven leaders during their summit in Germany, which Jokowi attended in his capacity as G-20 rotating chair. Following the G-20 summit, Jokowi’s next diplomatic mission is to assume the chairmanship of Asean, taking over from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

But before the changing of the guard, Jokowi should make sure Hun Sen does not embarrass Asean by inviting Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to the Asean Summit in October. Next year will be a perfect time for Indonesia to lead Asean in ending the Myanmar conundrum.

The stick alone has proven ineffective to make the Myanmar junta comply with the five-point consensus, which includes an immediate cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties and admitting humanitarian assistance from Asean. The group will also need a carrot, while helping the divided opposition unite and separating Gen. Hlaing from other military generals.

During the summit, Asean leaders normally host a series of events, such as the East Asian Summit, which invites dialogue partners. This year they include US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Given his track record, Hun Sen may force his way into bringing the Myanmar junta leader to the summit, regardless of the agreement among the nine Asean members not to invite the junta regime to any regional meeting until it fulfils its promise to adhere to the five-point consensus.

Hun Sen has shown his penchant for undermining Asean’s collective action against the Myanmar junta. Just one month after Asean leaders boycotted Hlaing’s attendance of the US-Asean special summit in Washington, DC, last month, Hun Sen allowed the defence minister of the Myanmar junta, Gen. Mya Tun Oo, to attend the Asean Defence Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh on June 16. The defence ministers of other Asean member states were also present.

Malaysia was quick to respond to the participation of the Myanmar junta’s representative, saying “this does not mean Malaysia recognises the as the legitimate government of Myanmar”. Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh claimed the presence of the junta representative proved that Asean was unified in finding solutions to the Myanmar crisis. “This is a participation to find solutions and this accusation, that accusation, we can’t respond to all of them,” he told a news conference, referring to criticism of the inclusion of Myanmar in the meeting.

Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto also looked unperturbed by Gen. Mya’s presence at the ADMM forum. In his speech, Prabowo called on Asean to work to defend the interests of Asean amid the rivalries of major powers.

There has been no explanation either from the Defence Ministry or the Foreign Ministry as to why Indonesia simply let the meeting happen with the attendance of a Myanmar regime that it does not recognise. Obviously, it was a slap in the face of President Jokowi, who is seeking the suspension of the Myanmar junta from all official Asean activities.

I am pretty sure that Prabowo would have not attended the ADMM had Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi informed him of the boycott against the Myanmar junta. Was there a problem of communication between the ministers or was it intentional because military and defence affairs fall, in practice, beyond the civilian government’s control? I prefer the first possibility.