New Delhi: The military coup in Myanmar has left other ASEAN members aggrieved. For the first time in recent years, the southeast regional body has decided to exclude Myanmar's junta to attend the three-day virtual Summit from October 26.
This is certainly a rare and unprecedented step for the consensus-driven bloc, which has traditionally avoided interference in a member nation's internal matters.
The move reflects changing dynamics, and India and other Asian players are keeping a close watch on various developments. As a bloc, ASEAN feels that entire southeast Asia has got a bad name due to frequent military coups in Myanmar. Such turmoils – now continuing for decades – has affected the economy too.
The influx into countries like Malaysia is another area of concern.
Observers see the move as a clear snub to Min Aung Hlaing, who led a coup against an elected civilian government on February 1 and detained the country's democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, over alleged election irregularities.
Reports suggest Myanmar security forces killed over 1,000 civilians so far, with thousands of others arrested because of the fierce crackdown on strikes and protests.
Thousands have fled to Indonesia and Malaysia, and an estimated 25,000 have crossed over to Mizoram state in India.
In August, Min Aung Hlaing declared himself Prime Minister of a newly formed caretaker government. He also pledged to hold elections by 2023.
More than the stand to uphold democracy, the ASEAN collective leadership decided to snub the military junta in Myanmar because of pressures from the US and other western powers and economic reasons.
The February 1 coup has been bad in a real sense for intra-ASEAN business.
The regular high volume of influx aggrieves Malaysia and Indonesia, and these two countries are not in a position to allow and integrate such a high number of people fleeing persecution and military crackdown in Myanmar.
Singapore, reports said, exported US$2.7 billion worth of goods to Myanmar in 2020, mainly mineral fuels, oil, electronics and machinery. But now, the business has suffered, and companies from Singapore and other ASEAN members may also face sanctions and boycotts for dealing with Myanmar.
The UNHCR said that there were a staggeringly high 179,390 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the international body in Malaysia by August. Of those, 102,990 are Rohingya, 22,470 Chins, mostly Christian minority and 29,390 from other ethnic groups. A huge number of Rohingya Muslim refugees have also ventured into Indonesia.
Democracy has, however, never been a forte for ASEAN and its members. Perhaps the story is only in favour of Indonesia. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who recently outlawed the political opposition, governs Cambodia. The bloc's current chair, Brunei, is an absolute monarchy. Key members Vietnam and Laos are, at best, communist-ruled one-party states.
Singapore also lacks fundamental freedoms when it comes to the media and civil rights. Malaysia is best described as a semi-democracy, and the Philippines does not have a very good record of democracy. Thailand is also known for several military coups.