Burma: ASEAN’s Image and the ‘Regional Interest’
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The most serious challenge to ASEAN’s international standing since the Cold War has been its inclusion of Burma as a member. Burma, which has been ruled by a military regime since 1988, is widely regarded in the West as a pariah state, home to widespread human rights abuses, the use of child labour, and drug trafficking, whilst the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is hailed as popular, pro-democracy icon.1 Western commentators and journalists consistently lambaste ASEAN for failing to intervene in Burma to address the problems caused by military misrule. Academic studies have generally reinforced this popular perception. Scholars have overwhelmingly argued that ASEAN states have not intervened at all for fear of legitimising intervention in their own countries. Instead, they have lent the shield of ‘non-interference’ to the Burmese regime and thereby ‘legitimised illiberalism’ (e.g. Than, 2005; Severino, 2006, pp. 134–48; Martinez-Kuhonta, 2006; Rahim, 2008). Constructivist scholar Amitav Acharya (2009a, pp. 127–34, 258) argues that Western pressure on ASEAN to do something about the regime may have ‘tested’ non-interference, but while ASEAN policy has shifted somewhat, ‘it has not significantly departed from the noninterference doctrine’. Realists similarly emphasise the importance of ASEAN’s ‘cherished norm’ of non-interference in constraining its ability to deal with Burma (Ganesan, 2006).
KeywordsSecurity Council International Labour Organisation Foreign Minister Regional Interest ASEAN State
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