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perspective

Asean principle of non-interference remains sacrosanct


Najib’s ill-timed, self-serving outburst against Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis could complicate matters 

Besieged Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak must have been out of his mind to personally attack Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi over the Rohingya crisis. It is one thing to show concern but quite another to indulge in naming and shaming colleagues to serve one’s own interests. This is exactly what Najib has done. In the process, he also made a mockery of the Asean policy of non-interference, which has been a widely accepted and practised principle since the regional group’s inception in 1967.
One thing is clear: The domestic political situation in Malaysia is not going to get better any time soon. Najib is under heavy pressure due to the corruption charges related to the 1Malaysian Development Bhd, which has damaged his leadership and the country’s reputation for the past few years. But miraculously, he has managed to retain the premiership and his grip on the United Malay National Organisation. All this would surely come at a high cost.
Malaysia’s willingness to pick a fight with Myanmar was poorly timed. Malaysia currently has  nearly 200,000 Rohingya refugees residing there. Kuala Lumpur’s latest position will further complicate Nay Pyi Taw’s efforts to help ease the tensions. Although Najib said he would ask Indonesia to join in the fight over the plight of the Rohingya, it would be foolhardy for President Joko Widodo to follow suit. 
Jakarta is pursuing a well-meaning path as the world’s most populous country. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi held bilateral talks with Suu Kyi on Tuesday. The talks went well and Jakarta promised not to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs.
Undoubtedly, the Rohingya issue is a serious one. But Myanmar should be given the opportunity to work out its own solution. Malaysia should know this well. 
An international commission headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has also visited the conflict zone in Rakhine State. Several recommendations were made.
It is interesting to note that Myanmar has now become the centre of attention because of its democratic transformation. This has enabled international organisations and human rights campaigners to observe and report, even though with some off-limit areas and restrictions. There will be more pressure on Myanmar on the issue of human rights.
At the moment, there has been the so-called Track Two dialogue between think tanks from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar to look into the crisis. It would not be long before Track One will have the confidence to go further.
Asean is always cautious in responding to sensitive issues, knowing full well the implications for the whole region. As a collective organisation, Asean can only take on the issue when the members reach a consensus. 
During the Cyclone Nargis crisis, Asean managed to convince Myanmar to allow humanitarian and medical assistance. Eventually, a tripartite committee was formed, which led to successful recovery efforts from 2008-2011.
Asean should respect the non-interference principle. It is reasonable to expect that with Suu Kyi in charge, the Rohingya crisis will be resolved. But a solution should not be forced by outside powers.

Published : December 09, 2016

By : The Nation