Of all the actors implicated in the release this past weekend of Aung San Suu Kyi, surely the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was among those who reaped the least benefit. Since admitting Myanmar in the late 1990s, ASEAN has realized that the decision was an enormous mistake, since the junta’s behavior wound up dominating ASEAN meetings, discussions with the United States and other outside powers, and tarnishing the group’s reputation. By getting the Obama administration to meet with ASEAN leaders even though Myanmar sat at the table, ASEAN thought it had finally extracted itself from being beholden to the junta in Naypyidaw.
But no. With Suu Kyi’s release, which puts pressure on the junta to allow her to travel and re-form her political organization and puts the international spotlight on Myanmar again, ASEAN will again be dominated by the Myanmar issue, which will paralyze meetings of the organization and, potentially (if the junta commits another atrocity against Suu Kyi and her party), will create a new divide between ASEAN and Western partners like the United States and the European Union.