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Analysis: The ASEAN Bloc's Myanmar Dilemma

Council on Foreign Relations

October 2, 2007
Author: Lee Hudson Teslik

With the shakeout from Myanmar’s late September protests still unclear, international attention turns to the diplomatic turmoil sparked by the unrest, most notably among Myanmar’s neighbors. Outrage over Myanmar’s apparent government clampdown on protestors placed the ten states of ASEAN—the Association of South East Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar—in an uncomfortable bind. The Financial Times says the Myanmar question is the “biggest political crisis” faced by the forty-year-old bloc and comes at a “sensitive time when the group is about to launch moves to promote closer integration.”

The response to the Myanmar crackdown among ASEAN member states has been mixed. ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting at the UN in New York, issued a statement condemning the use of automatic weapons on protestors and urging Myanmar’s government to “exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution.” Yet beyond such statements of concern, analysts see little chance of ASEAN members taking harsher steps like economic sanctions. Bloc member Thailand relies on Myanmar’s natural gas for 20 percent of its electricity generation, and Singapore and Malaysia compete for Myanmar’s hardwoods and minerals, reports the New York Times.

Newspapers in the region remain critical of Myanmar’s junta—and one reader, commenting in the Jakarta Post, called ASEAN’s leaders “shamefully weak” for their response. With the international outcry also growing, efforts by ASEAN countries to retain economic ties with Myanmar now threaten to erode trade deals with other countries.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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