The ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting
In his capacity as State Administration Council Chairman, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made the first foreign trip to Jakarta, Indonesia to attend the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, held on 24 April 2021. While it is hardly unusual for a State Leader to make an overseas trip, this trip was notable for highlighting the future path of the government led by the State Administration Council to ASEAN and the world, despite the state of emergency. It was made clear that the State Administration Council would continue to safeguard the country and protect its national interests, keep the nation on a path of democratic reform, improve national stability, and raise the living standards of citizens.
The State Administration Council Chairman informed the ASEAN leaders that Myanmar would continue to support regional stability, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. Moreover, he reiterated that Myanmar would maintain close cooperation with ASEAN countries in line with the ASEAN Charter and the provisions of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in order to achieve the aims and purposes of ASEAN.
During the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, the State Administration Council Chairman presented the political changes in Myanmar and the tasks that lay ahead. The trip underscored the State Administration Council’s key roles, highlighted international and regional acceptance of the government, and emphasized ASEAN’s stance on Myanmar. Above all, the most significant result of the trip was that it gave new strength and renewed commitment to the peaceful development of Myanmar, which will enable the Myanmar people to move forward with greater trust in the government led by the State Administration Council.
On 25 April 2021, the State Administration Council released a statement on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, which mentioned that ASEAN leaders had exchanged views on the current situation of Myanmar and on the points in the statement of the ASEAN Chairman. In response to ASEAN Leaders, Myanmar informed that it would give due consideration to the constructive recommendations made by ASEAN Leaders. Given that the priorities now were to maintain law and order and restore community peace and stability, the way forward would depend on the progress in restoring stability to the country. Myanmar also informed that all suggestions would be positively considered if these facilitated the implementation of the Five-Point Roadmap that had been laid down by the State Administration Council, in accordance with the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Way and ASEAN Spirit.
Peace, security, and the rule of law
On 31 March 2021, the Tatmadaw issued a statement regarding ceasefire arrangements and the peace process. The statement announced that the Tatmadaw would extend the suspension of all military operations until the end of April, so that ongoing peace negotiations could continue, and the traditional Myanmar Thingyan festival could be held peacefully. On 30 April 2021, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services extended the suspension of all military operations until 31 May 2021, except in cases where the government’s security and administrative machinery is being sabotaged and attacked. The statement urged all in the meantime to negotiate and make concerted efforts to achieve durable peace.
On 26 April 2021, the National Unity and Peace Coordination Committee held separate meetings with the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union/ Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC). The meetings focused on peace processes in line with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the construction of inter-village roads for regional development, the establishment of factories and industries to create job opportunities for local communities and family members of the troops, and the development of the health, education, and agriculture sectors.
On 2 April 2021, the government held a meeting of the National-Level Committee on the Resettlement and Closure of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps. At the meeting, the Chairperson of the National-Level Committee discussed policy and procedures to be implemented, the formation of regional level committees and working committees, the programmes to protect and provide to the IDPs, and the measures to rebuild a safe and dignified environment for them. The Government will continue to support IDPs across the country, with plans to eventually ensure safe and independent communities for them. These will especially benefit the national ethnic peoples.
To defend and protect the country’s sovereignty and territory and enhance its defence capability, the Tatmadaw continually conducts Army, Navy and Air military exercises.
In Rakhine State, arrangements are being made to assist internally displaced persons in camps, resettle those who want to return to their homes, and conduct vocational training courses. The Union Minister for Border Affairs who chairs the National-level Committee on Resettlement and Closure of IDP Camps explained these arrangements at event held for IDPs in Rakhine State on 10 April. The Union Minister met with various officials and the residents at IDP camps in Sittway, An, Kyaukpyu and MraukU townships.
To defend and protect the country’s sovereignty and territory and enhance its defence capability, the Tatmadaw continually conducts Army, Navy and Air military exercises. The Myanmar Navy’s role is crucial for the country’s defence, given Myanmar’s coastline of well over 1,300 miles. From 4 April 2021, the Myanmar Navy conducted the Three-Dimensional Naval Exercise – Sea Shield 2020, which involved exercises in strategic air defence, surface warfare and underwater warfare. The Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services himself inspected the operations on 10 April.
Starting from 2 April 2021, legal actions under Section 505-A of the Penal Code were taken against those who commit incitements affecting peace and stability. The suspects thus charged have their names, addresses, photos, and Facebook accounts disclosed in state-owned newspapers, radio, and television channels on a daily basis. Among those charged are well-known public figures, artists, and medical doctors. Those who have spread false news in order to stoke unrest and riots are also being charged.
On 20 April 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press release stating that since the so-called Committee Representing Pyithu Hluttaw (CRPH) was formed illegally, the CRPH and its associated organizations had been declared as unlawful associations on 21 March 2021. Actions have been taken against CRPH for forming an illegal parallel government. Accordingly, the NUG (National Unity Government) formed by the CRPH is also an illegal association and NUG members are illegitimate. On 22 April, 26 members of the so-called parallel government were charged at courts and police stations. Moreover, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has not been allowed to register, as it does not conform to the Association Registration Law and Rules. The Association claims to release the death toll during the riots. Based on social media and rumours, the numbers are not accurate and have been grossly exaggerated. Such information causes more unrest and public concern, and the Ministry of Home Affairs stated on 26 April that action would be taken under the law against such false reports.
On 1 April 2021, the State Administration Council issued its invitation again to Myanmar citizens who had left Myanmar for various reasons. The invitation noted that certain citizens, including students, youth, and civil servants had fled to areas dominated by ethnic armed organizations or to other countries, due to fear fueled by falsehoods produced by local and foreign organizations. Those who have fled are now suffering with regard to security, life prospects and socio-economic conditions. Therefore, the State Administration Council invites such citizens to return to their homes. The Government has also made arrangements for young people who had participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and the protests, but had only done so with incitement from others, to be reunited with their parents in April.
On 27 April 2021, the State Administration Council’s Information Team released a statement that indicated leniency for civil servants who have been involved in CDM not because they wished to undermine the state but as a result of pressure, threats and coercion from others and fear of social punishment. Such civil servants will be given special consideration, and provided with the opportunity to re-enter government service, with certain conditionalities and limitations.
The government led by the State Administration Council is accelerating measures to enhance regional development, uplift people’s lives, and set the course to achieve democracy, based on goodwill, decisive action, and firm commitment.
Policy guidance and prioritization are set by the various deliberations of the State Administration Council. For example, on 22 April 2021, the meeting of the Management Committee of the State Administration Council focused on the production and export of products, the effective use of the State budget, the organization of sports competitions, the arrangements for reopening schools in May and June, and the renewed emphasis on law and business in university curricula. On 26 April 2021, the State Administration Council meeting (9/2021) focused on the need for solid evidence to take action against an organization under existing law, the need to appreciate loyal government employees, the resumption of normal operations by banks, the actions against entertainment artists committing illegal actions, the organization of interim press conferences, and solar power generation at Indawgyi Lake. Furthermore, the meeting also discussed the issuance of citizenship scrutiny cards under the Citizenship Law.
Priority would be given to the export of agricultural products over natural resources exploitation, and to actions that develop human resources in each region.
Arrangements are being made to grant citizenship scrutiny cards to all eligible citizens. The Pankhin project will issue citizenship scrutiny cards to more than 3.8 million people. This task will require the full participation of staff at each level in all relevant departments.
The implementation of measures to improve state and regional development is proceeding in a transparent and consultative way. On 6 April 2021, the State Administration Council Chairman met with the Chairpersons of Region/State Administration Councils and Self-Administered Division/Zone Administration Bodies. The State Administration Council Chairman underscored the need to serve the interests of the entire people and obtain their trust as a government that can be relied upon to deliver results. He emphasized that Myanmar must continue to work towards the achievement of democracy and federalism. As such, citizens would need to broaden their knowledge of democracy and federalism. Priority would be given to the export of agricultural products over natural resources exploitation, and to actions that develop human resources in each region.
The support of the leadership has provided renewed impetus to the Tatmadaw medical corps who are providing medical services to the civilian population, and to the government’s efforts to reopen public hospitals, closed because of civil disobedience by public doctors, who had also expelled their own patients. The leadership provides motivation to accelerate transport and other infrastructural projects for the country, as well as the required improvements in health, education, and other socio-economic sectors. Leadership firms up the resolve to control the spread of misinformation and disinformation via media, reopen schools for children and adolescents, and ensure that adherents of all religions can practise their faith peacefully.
On 10 April 2021, the State Administration Council Chairman met with the members of the Ayeyawady Region Administration Council and departmental staff. The meeting emphasized development issues and the resumption of operations. The Union Ministers accompanying the State Administration Council Chairman focused on the reopening of public schools, universities, and health care programmes in the region.
Regional and international cooperation
The Twenty-Fifth ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Council Meeting of ministers was held via video conference on 31 March 2021 under the ASEAN Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam. Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture U Ko Ko and his delegation joined the meeting via videoconferencing. The ministers discussed socio-economic development and collaboration among ASEAN countries.
On 1 April 2021, the Union Minister for International Cooperation attended the 17th Ministerial meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which was held virtually in Colombo, Sri Lanka to finalize preparations for the Fifth BIMSTEC Summit to be held in Sri Lanka in 2021. The Union Minister discussed the approval of documents to be signed at the coming 5th BIMSTEC Summit on economic cooperation, safe transportation, and mutual collaboration in the agricultural and energy sectors.
On 8 April 2021, the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs participated in the ASEAN-UK Open-Ended Troika Meeting on cooperation between ASEAN and the UK in health-related matters, including COVID-19, resilient and sustainable economic recovery, and climate change. The Union Minister presented Myanmar’s emphasis on management of COVID-19 and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which are part of the State Administration Council’s Five-Point Road Map.
to be continued.