Since its formation in 1967 with five founding members, Asean has grown to its present formidable strength of ten countries. It had a modest beginning with the fledgling organisation striving very hard to gain the recognition and confidence of the international community, in particular the United States of America and the European countries and of course lately the titanic China. It is now enjoying an unprecedented renown in world diplomatic relations comparable to any similar western alliances like the European Union.
Whilst it was at the zenith of its development, Asean seemed to have lost its sense of direction by inviting the despotic Myanmar regime to join its rank, to the dismay of its western allies. Of course Myanmar was not alone in being invited to join Asean as there were four other South East Asian countries invited as well. It was unclear who was the smart Aleck whose brilliant thinking initiated this bizarre idea of including Myanmar in the organisation. It goes without saying that he was able to convince his gullible colleagues with his cockeyed argument of a policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar.
Assuming that a policy of constructive engagement was a noble cause in the beginning, subsequent truculent and undemocratic behaviour of the Myanmar military junta should have disabused any would-be diehard dreamers in Asean of the futility of such a policy. Asean is full of sound and fury but has little to show, apart from bombastic talks and vauntings, to bring Myanmar to its senses. In fact, what Asean should now take as a last straw in his patience is the outrageous outpouring of Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Defence at the august Shangri-La Dialogue warning the international community, including the eminent Asean members, to keep their hands off the so-called internal affairs of Myanmar including the trumped-up trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. Quite appalling, but not unexpected, not a single member of the Asean luminaries had the audacity of even uttering a squeak to chastise the egregious Myanmar general who had
flagrantly abused his position as a guest. It was left to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and British Minister for International Defence and Security Ann Taylor to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees.
Well, quo vadis Asean? The whole world is anxiously waiting for some deterrent action against the despotic Myanmar regime including its expulsion from Asean. Can Asean shake off its spineless image? While it is scrambling to restore its confidence, the Myanmar military junta will be cocking a snook at its Asean colleagues and the world.