It’s a wrap. But what has been achieved?

The Myanmar chairmanship came to a successful end, without security incidents or discord in the Southeast Asian bloc. But what has actually been achieved?

20 November 2014 | Written by Mizzima Published in Ed/Op Read 327 times

(Editorial) – The ASEAN Summit is finished. The international visitors have moved on, Naypyidaw hoteliers can adjust their room rates to reasonable levels again, and the Myanmar government can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Myanmar chairmanship came to a successful end, without security incidents or discord in the Southeast Asian bloc.

But what has actually been achieved?

President U Thein Sein read out the obligatory statement on the last day of the summit saying ASEAN should broaden its external relations with potential trading and investment partners. The President also highlighted climate change, extremism and infectious diseases.

Human rights issues were carefully edited out of the script. Myanmar failed to present a human rights report to the regional bloc, which is highly unusual for an ASEAN chair.

The ASEAN leaders agreed to consider further integration ahead of the planned Asean Economic Community due to materialise in 2015. Concrete steps were avoided, leaving the AEC dangling and in doubt.

It were the international visitors that attracted most of the attention. US President Barack Obama charmed his way through his second visit to the country. He spoke to young Myanmar at Yangon University’s Diamond Jubilee Hall and handled a small show of discontent in his familiar smooth style. He also visited the Secretariat, where independence hero Aung San was assisinated. The historical significance was evident.

Obama’s visit to the Secretariat can be seen as further evidence that the President is not depending on his relations with the government alone. The public show of affection during the press conference with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made that perfectly clear.

Obama was not sugar coating his words. He sent a tough message to the Myanmar government. His use of the Rohingya word and his call for a new plan for Rakhine, to substitute the controversial Rakhine State Action Plan, didn’t leave anything to the imagination. Mr Obama walked away from Myanmar earning praise for his efforts to push Myanmar back to its reforms track.

In contrast, the award for most unhappy man in Naypyidaw went to UN secretary eneral Ban Ki-moon. At his first press conference the UN-chief managed to antagonize not only the Myanmar journalists present but the whole nation with his frequent use of the word Rohingya, when the Myanmar insist this minority actually does not exist. Just a day later Ban made a complete about turn by suggesting the UN would assist the Myanmar government in implementing the Rakhine State Action Plan, which contains elements that seemed unacceptable to the secretary general and the UN before. In short: Ban made no friends in Myanmar.

The UN-chief had barely left the country before Rakhine Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn released a statement saying that only humanitarian and development organisations that renounce the Rohingya are allowed to assist in Rakhine. The Arakan Nationalities Party (ANP) followed up with an even stronger worded statement.

Who profits from these extreme nationalistic stances?

Not the central government and the USDP, who, a recent MPC survey shows, have nothing to gain electorally by communal unrest. The Chief Minister himself is mainly placating domestic political actors. He has to, because the Rakhine region parliament is controlled by the ANP.

In the end it is the ANP and its leaders that use this thorny issue to broaden their power base and, ultimately, build up their own stature and wealth.

The international community wants to assist in Rakhine state and develop Myanmar’s second poorest state, but to be able to do so it has to renounce some universal human rights that its member nations, including Myanmar, are bound to.

So who are paying the price? It’s the ordinary Rakhine, Buddhists and Muslims alike, who are struggling to get by. They will remain shackled by poverty if nothing is done to alleviate their problems.