As Indonesia is embarking on its own version of diplomacy on Myanmar, a quiet diplomacy or non-megaphone diplomacy as its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, calls it, the military government and its militias continue to kill civilians in Myanmar, showing that Indonesia becoming chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) means nothing to them.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is preparing to host leaders of ASEAN members in the grouping’s summit in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, when he broke on Monday news on the attack against ASEAN officials delivering humanitarian aid in Myanmar’s Shan State.
While we are yet to know the details of the incident, just last April, or four months after Indonesia took over chairmanship from Cambodia, the military launched an airstrike against a village, killing more than 100 people, the deadliest one strike incident in a latest string of major mass killings since February 2021 when the military took over Myanmar from the elected civilian government.
It means under Indonesia’s watch the Myanmar military delivered its deadliest mass murder in a single strike yet.
This is the sound of Indonesia’s quiet diplomacy. A deafening silence.
In fact, according to an analysis from BBC, there were at least 600 air attacks by the military between February 2021 and January 2023, targeting villages, housing schools and health clinics in sign of a desperation of the junta to shut down people’s resistance against its power.
Thousands have been killed under the military government as 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
And yet, despite all these Myanmar junta’s disrespect, humiliation and monstrous acts, Indonesia seems to keep on turning a blind eye, and continue to try to appease them for the sake of engagement. For the sake of being given a chance to meet.
Hopefully, we are wrong. But if this quiet diplomacy is meant to keep the attempts of the engagement a secret, or keep it away from the media to avoid angering or humiliating the junta so that they want to meet and talk, it will be massively a mistake.
We understand that Indonesia, the Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and member of G20 with illustrious past achievement and activism, is under high pressure to deliver because of unrealistic expectations from fellow ASEAN members as well as from the international community. Indonesia seems to want to do anything to meet at least some of the expectations after Cambodia and Brunei, the two previous ASEAN chairs, failed even to move the needle.
But Indonesia is begging the junta to be given a chance that will not be given because Indonesia and perhaps ASEAN is the last on Myanmar junta’s list to worry about.
Diplomacy needs time. We get it.
But unless Indonesia has a meaningful leverage or bargaining chips, there is no reason for the junta to listen, and it’s all a waste of time and energy, with the lives of Myanmar civilians on the line.
How can we expect the junta to meet representatives from the National Unity Government (NUG), the people they want to kill in the first place? How can the military regime accept the Five-Point Consensus if it means they have to give up power? Giving up power means asking them to commit suicide. Why will they want to do that?
Besides, we don’t and we can’t play diplomacy if we don’t have leverage, bargaining chips or something to offer.
Unless Indonesia and ASEAN create one massive leverage – stick or carrot — then there is nothing Indonesia can do to move the needle.
If power to rule and guarantee to safety are the key factors to the junta then Indonesia, ASEAN and the UN must be able to attack them, or provide them.
What ASEAN can do is to show the junta they can walk the extra mile: suspension of Myanmar’s ASEAN membership, and hand over the problem to the UN, while opening the possibility for UN intervention based on humanitarian reasons – gross human rights violation, ethnic cleansing and mass murders.
ASEAN and Indonesia should also make clear that they are prepared to acknowledge NUG instead of the junta regime.
In addition, ASEAN must ask China to choose, siding with them or the military junta because for its own interests, China – together with Russia – has given a lifeline to the military regime, including providing aircrafts for the attack against the civilians.
That’s one big stick and leverage. Anything less than this is, again, a waste of time. It is not necessary that ASEAN and the UN will do it but it must be open to want to go this way.
And the carrot? A guarantee for the junta leaders to walk away in one piece.
We hope Jokowi and other ASEAN leaders will stop pretending and can see how unrealistic it is to ask Myanmar obey the Five-Point Consensus, and come out with tough and realistic stance, and will not waste any more time with Myanmar people being executed on a daily basis.
Just as a soft reminder, we are dealing with a monster and mass murderer here. If they have killed thousands of their own people, and will want to kill more, then doing anything else to stay in power is easy for them.
But we can’t be easy and quiet about it because the silence is getting deafening and hard to bear. In fact, we have to scream out about it. And if it becomes a megaphone for the whole world to know, so be it.