Understanding 3 Potential Conflicts in Southeast Asia: Key Takeaways From Our September Webinar

Is it true that ASEAN is the hotbed for potential war or conflict? On Wednesday, September 7th, 2022, we discussed the possibilities of potential conflict happening in ASEAN and the intervention needed. We invited our notable speakers: Greg Barton (Deakin University, Australia), Marcin Damek (Nanjing University, China). Unfortunately, Wai Wai Nu (Women Peace Network) couldn’t make it to the webinar. However, Don Pathan (The Asia Foundation, Thailand) also shared his insightful perspectives alongside Greg and Marcin in this webinar. 

 

These are the conflicts happening in ASEAN recently:

 

  • The Myanmar Coup

In February 2021, Myanmar had to go through a coup d’état by the military (Tatmataw), against the ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The coup descended into chaos and became the international spotlight right away. Greg even said that this situation has sped up into civil war. “What’s happening in Myanmar is a human tragedy. We shouldn’t ignore that,” said Greg. This situation questioned one of ASEAN’s principles, non-interference. Thailand, according to Don, doesn’t have the luxury to speak frankly about what’s happening in Myanmar. This is because Thailand and Myanmar share a close border and back-door channels such as military to military or even people to people.

 

  • South China Sea Controversy

The controversy started as China claimed sovereignty of the South China Sea with the “nine-dash line,” This decision threatened five Southeast Asian countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam) and Taiwan. Marcin said that this controversy started right after World War II, and the case dispute became more significant over time. Ultimately, China violated its sovereignty over the Philippines by interfering with their fishing and petroleum exploration area. The Philippines then brought this case to court in 2016 and won the case. From Marcin’s perspective, this decision touched on the concept of national integrity, which for China, it is essential.

 

  • Southern Thailand Conflict

When talking about Southern Thailand’s peace process, Don mentioned that Southeast Asia has a lot of proxies, such as proxy war buffer zones. Malaysia became the facilitator in the Southern Thailand conflict, but it received critics saying that Malaysia isn’t an honest broker because of its proximity. According to Don, Southeast Asia, textbook-wise, thinks that it’s important to have a mediator as involved as possible during the peace process. By the textbook, it is more important for ASEAN to have a mediator than to be more practical and convenient in its process.

 

It can be concluded that ASEAN has potential conflicts, and there’s no guarantee that ASEAN will be free from conflict. However, ASEAN as an organization and a regional cooperation has its way of achieving peace within its region.