When regional hostilities simmer and great-power confrontations loom, from Ukraine to Taiwan, the situation in Myanmar has been actually worsening internally and emerging as a major threat beyond its border. Myanmar Junta’s brutality has created a mass exodus of Rohingya refugees which has turned into a regional security threat. As a founding member of ASEAN and a hosting country of Rohingya refugees, Malaysia supported the “non-interference” policy of the ASEAN in response to Myanmar’s violations of human rights, including the treatment of Karen and Rohingya ethnic minorities, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest, and the violent crackdown by the Myanmar government on numerous Buddhist monks and civilians who were peacefully protesting the military regime. The current range of atrocities and reckless behavior of the Junta toward Myanmar’s people and international communities make Malaysia bound to shift its policy from ‘non-interference’ to ‘constructive engagement’ through the United Nations.
According to a report, the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has designed the whole schedule to underscore the Malaysian perspective on the plight of Rohingya refugees and the Junta’s recklessness toward regional and international communities. During the UNGA session, Malaysia’s foreign minister, Saifuddin Abdullah met with the Deputy Foreign Minister of the NUG and Chairperson of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a representative of the National Unity Consultative Council, and the UN representative (NUG appointed) to understand the current situation of Myanmar. The report shows that the prime agenda of Malaysia during the 77th session is to present the current scenario of Myanmar conflict and pressurizes the world communities to take strong actions that have been neglected during the Ukraine-Russia crisis.
Malaysia is known as a ‘nation of asylum.’ Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak welcomed stateless Rohingya in 2016 for showing humanitarian support. After the 2021 coup of Myanmar, Malaysia stands in a strong position on regional and international platforms to condemn the Junta government and its irresponsible behavior toward its people. During a counterterrorism conference in Sydney, in 2018, Najib Razak stated that the Rohingya crisis as a major security threat to Southeast Asia. Malaysia strongly criticized the Military’s brutal policy toward the Mayanmar’s people and urged to change its course and choose a path towards a peaceful solution. Though the ASEAN and the United Nations have taken several steps to resolve the conflict, the Junta’s recent aggressive behavior toward domestic and international levels has watered all efforts.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar military has blithely ignored the five-point consensus which was initiated in 2021 to halt the violence. But, the government of Malaysia acts consistently and firmly to pressurize Myanmar through ASEAN, OIC, and UN. Malaysia has exposed Myanmar’s continuous atrocities in several meetings with the European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs on Sept 20; the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during the 77th UNGA session. Malaysia has planned to engage all actors such as the NUG, ASEAN, and UN to counter Myanmar’s brutal policy toward the people of Myanmar. Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of Malaysia, announced in New York on 19th September, the eve of high-level events at the U.N. General Assembly that Kuala Lumpur intends to pressure ASEAN into making a decision regarding the future of its five-point consensus on Myanmar before the regional bloc’s summit in November and recognizing the NUG which is working hard to bring together all the ethnic communities of Myanmar. In the UN platform, Malaysia expressed its dissatisfaction with the engagement of ASEAN with the NUG and NUCC of Myanmar. As an ASEAN member, Malaysia is the first country which officially met with Myanmar’s shadow government.
Malaysia’s strong stance may bring about some diplomatic outcomes on the Myanmar issue. Firstly, through Malaysia’s pressure, ASEAN and the UN members’ may agree to recognize and support the NUG. By recognizing the NUG, countries may provide diplomatic and economic support to the Shadow government to continue war against the Junta. Prior to that in May, Malaysia’s foreign minister said in an interview that ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar has welcomed the idea of engaging informally with Myanmar’s Myanmar’s National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), a body of opposition stakeholders, as the junta has reneged on a promise to put the country back on a democratic path. He met with the foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 2022. The meeting was informal but marked as a watershed moment in the bloc’s approach to the ongoing conflict in its errant member-state. The meeting made the Junta furious and the junta branded the NUG as the “terrorist groups.” In June, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, supported Malaysia’s novel idea, saying that other UN member states should follow Malaysia’s lead and interact with Myanmar’s parallel civilian National Unity Government in an effort to resolve its post-coup crisis.
Secondly, ASEAN may prepare groundwork so that the leaders of the ASEAN can make the necessary decision in November. The five-point agreement was reached between ASEAN leaders and Burmese military chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in 2021 to end violence but ASEAN failed to implement for the Junta’s ignorance. During the Shangri-La Dialogue panel in Singapore in June, the Malaysian foreign minister urged that ASEAN should work and plan more to reach the five-point consensus within a limited time frame. The continuous efforts of Malaysia through the UNGA will assist the ASEAN and the UN to make some hard questions and possible positions to pressurize the Junta by November.
Thirdly, by focusing on the plight of the Rohingyas and the funding needed for the children’s education programs in Bangladesh and Malaysia in the UNGA platform, Malaysia has grabbed the world’s attention which was shifting after the global geopolitical rift. The 77th session of the UNGA has taken place at a particularly precarious time when the rules-based international order has been threatened by the conflict in Ukraine, the possibility of new great power competition, and conflicts and crises around the world. Against this backdrop, Malaysia has focused on the plight of the Rohingyas and its decreasing fund for the host countries in the session. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has also underscored the challenges of Rohingya repatriation and urged international communities to find a possible solution to the crisis. At the same time, she also met with Filippo Grandi of UNHCR for solving the fund crisis.
Fourthly, the UNGA and ASEAN may take the stand seriously and may pressurize the Myanmar junta to implement the five-point consensus. About 150 world leaders took part in UNGA’s 77th session amid global challenges. ASEAN, the renowned regional organization, set up the Five Point Consensus in the presence of illegitimate junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to address the Myanmar conflict caused by the military’s attempted coup. On the other side, the UN also supported the ASEAN’s five-point consensus what the military junta has openly and brazenly disregarded. So, without proper initiatives such as the harsh sanctions, the UN and ASEAN could not contribute meaningfully to implement the agreement to halt Myanmar junta. Malaysia’s lively presence and confidence to put the Myanmar Junta’s atrocities on the discussion table of the UN may encourage world leaders to take more initiatives to implement the ASEAN’s five-point consensus or initiate a fresh idea.
In conclusion, during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Malaysia’s expression of solidarity with the people of Myanmar and diplomatic pressure reveals Malaysia’s solemnity in halting Myanmar Junta’s atrocities by arguing for member states ‘non-interference’ to ‘non-indifference’ policy on Myanmar crisis.
– Aditi Chakrovorty is serving as Senior Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she served as Research Associate at the East Asia Study Center (EASC), University of Dhaka.