Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Burmese – Lon chon yei athaik awun

May 25th, 2011 · No Comments · Burmese, Security Community

Lon chon yēi athaik awūn

Relates to security community

The Burmese term for ‘security community’, lon chon yēi (security) athaik (nest or group) awūn (circumference) is a neologism, used primarily to describe Burma’s inclusion within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Security Community.

A predominate concern of the Burmese military government is regime security, or the perpetuation of military rule.  As such, government propaganda about ASEAN tends to stress its role in protecting the sovereignty of members against ‘foreign interference’,[1] rather than the broader regional security components outlined in the ‘ASEAN Security Community Plan of Action’ (i.e., political development, shaping and sharing of norms, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, post-conflict peace building, and implementing mechanisms).[2]

A significant benefit of ASEAN membership is that it has provided the Burmese military government with a diplomatic shield against efforts, generally led by Western governments and advocacy groups, to isolate the regime politically and economically.  As stated bluntly in Burmese government propaganda, ASEAN provides ‘an environment . . . free from foreign interference and that respects each other’s sovereignty’.[3] In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted:

Joining ASEAN was a significant achievement. At a time where the Western powers had exerted political and economic pressure upon Myanmar and used their influence in ASEAN to persuade the Association not to admit Myanmar, the acceptance by the Association was Myanmar’s political gain and a sign of fraternity among Asian nations. By joining ASEAN, Myanmar on the political front was able to counter the pressure groups through ASEAN forums and made clear statements on Myanmar’s stand on various issues.[4]

Echoing this, government propaganda has presented the ASEAN community as ‘a haven of peace and harmony’ and ‘a caring and sharing community’ based on ‘a culture of cooperation rather than confrontation’.[5] The military regime stresses that ASEAN’s communal values include ‘solidarity, consultation, consensus, mutual respect and non-interference’. [6]

However, Burma’s inclusion in ASEAN has not provided the military government with an impregnable shield against criticism.  On-going human rights abuses and the creeping progress of its nominal transition to democracy have prompted efforts within ASEAN to pressure Burmese authorities to reform the political system.   Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have at various times attempted to shift ASEAN’s approach toward Burma from a policy of ‘constructive engagement’ toward a more activist one.  ‘Constructive engagement’ has generally focused on engagement in the form of trade as a means of promoting change, in contrast to Western government’s policies of imposing economic sanctions.[7] Efforts to adopt a policy of ‘constructive intervention’ in 1998 were subsequently softened to ‘flexible engagement’ before agreement was finally reached agreement on an informal policy of ‘enhanced interaction’.[8]

The military government’s response indicates very clearly that it felt these actions to be a betrayal of ASEAN’s basic principles and the protections it is supposed to provide against foreign interference:

The aims, basic principles and concepts of the (ASEAN) Association have categorically stated that the Association would not for any reason interfere in the internal affairs of member nations. The Western Bloc or the neo-colonialists have long been insisting that this resolution should be amended and interference in internal affairs of member nations allowed.  Surprisingly, some members have echoed the words of the Western bloc with the aim of interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs. Are the nations of those ministers who made such remarks free from problems? . . . Malaysia opposed a call by Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan that ASEAN should change its 31-year-old policy of ‘Constructive Engagement’ or non-interference in internal affairs of member nations to ‘flexible engagement’ where members talked openly of each others’ problems.  The Philippines Foreign Minister, however, supported the Thai Foreign Minister and called for interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs [emphasis added].[9]

 

 

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[1] See for example, Prime Minister Khin Nyunt’s statements about the Bali Concord II in, New Light of Myanmar, 25 October 2003.

[2] “Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II)” available at http://www.aseansec.org/16826.htm

[3] Education most basic and firmest strength of nation January 31, 2004

[4]Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: History and Activities (Yangon: MOFA, 2005), p 8 cited in Maung Aung Myoe, “Regionalism in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future,” Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 73, September 2006, p.17.

[5] “Through ASEAN, Myanmar has been able to promote its foreign policy goals interacting mutually beneficial ways with dialogue partners: Our way of working in solidarity, consultation, consensus, mutual respect and non-interference is our strength,” New Light of Myanmar, 8 August, 2007

[6] “Through ASEAN, Myanmar has been able to promote its foreign policy goals interacting mutually beneficial ways with dialogue partners: Our way of working in solidarity, consultation, consensus, mutual respect and non-interference is our strength,”  New Light of Myanmar, 8 August, 2007

[7] For characterizations of this policy see Tekkatho Tin Kha, ASEAN and Myanmar, International Affairs News Journal, no date circa 1998, pp 35-42, 133-134.

[8]See Maung Aung Myoe, “Regionalism in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future,” Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 73, September 2006, Pps 19-20 and Jurgen Haacke, “Enhanced Interaction with Myanmar and the Project of a Security Community: Is ASEAN Refined or Breaking with its Diplomatic and Security Culture?” Contemporary Southeast Asia, (Vol. 27, No.2) pp. 189-190.

[9] Maung Po Hmat, “Myanmar will not, on any account, allow interference,” New Light of Myanmar 28 July 1998, cited in Maung Aung Myoe, “Regionalism in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future,” Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 73, September 2006, Page 19.

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