Disapproval of Myanmar coup does not give ASEAN licence to interfere: Vivian Balakrishnan


There have been questions over Singapore’s involvement with ASEAN and Myanmar. 

Some have wondered whether Singapore has done enough to condone the actions of the junta, while others questioned the role ASEAN plays in this human tragedy. 

Here are extracts from Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan’s reply to MPs during the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Committee of Supply debate. 

They lay out Singapore’s position on the Myanmar crisis and why we must continue to uphold the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs.

What is happening in Myanmar is a tragedy and it is not something that can be fixed externally.

In fact, if you think about Myanmar since independence, go back 70, 80 years to the end of the Second World War – unlike the rest of us, they have never been able to forge a single all-encompassing consensus on identity and bringing all the component parts together.

This coup, two years now in the making, has not helped. If you ask me for my opinion, I think it is a dead end.

It is not going to lead to a road where you will achieve national reconciliation, national reconstruction, the forging of a national identity, the protection of minorities, the uplift of its economy and the capacity of its people.

S’pore does not believe in foreign interference

Having said that, we must also be very clear that we do not believe in foreign interference in domestic affairs. Nothing that we do can solve the problem if the key stakeholders within Myanmar society themselves are not prepared to sit down and have an honest-to-goodness conversation with each other for the sake of the future of their people.

We must understand that although we clearly disapprove of the coup and we do not recognise the current military junta in Myanmar, it does not give ASEAN a license to interfere in its domestic affairs.

I hope you agree with me that it is necessary for us to take this principled but restrained position on Myanmar. 

ASEAN’s consensus principle allows for diversity

No other regional organisation, if you just look at the ten of us, or soon to be 11, has the great diversity in the economy, forms of government – you got absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies, democracies of various shades, and sometimes even outcomes of coups. If you look at language, culture, religion, there is no other regional organisation I can think of with that range of diversity.

Then we go back in history on why the consensus principle?

It has everything to do with diversity and in the midst of diversity you must remember, it is very important to protect, especially, a community, or state, or body of opinion that may be a minority at that point in time.

When consensus is abused, it becomes an avenue for everyone to take hostages and to loosely threaten a veto.

I recognise the danger.

But actually in practice, knowing that you have to seek consensus creates a whole level of additional consultations, negotiations, compromises, imaginative diplomacy, which would not be present if everyone had easy access to just majoritarian voting. 

The ASEAN Charter does envisage that there will be occasions when consensus will not be possible. In those circumstances, it hands over sufficient flexibility for the leaders to decide how to move forward.

All in all, there will be arguments, but generally it has worked and ASEAN has made progress.


Images: MCI/YouTube, ASEAN