ASEAN’s Albatross: ASEAN’s Burma Policy, from Constructive Engagement to Critical Disengagement
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Following the abortive “Saffron Revolution” of autumn 2007, Burma’s ASEAN partners were subject to the timeworn criticism that the grouping persistently fails to act against its pariah member due to its near-religious adherence to the norm of non-interference. Conversely, this paper argues that ASEAN’s policy towards Burma has never been one of strict non-interference, but has always been premised on the claim that ASEAN can encourage political change there. Moreover, the non-interference principle has come under increasing pressure since the Asian financial crisis. The article tracks the evolution of ASEAN’s policy, from the adoption of constructive engagement in 1988, through the gradual frustration of ASEAN’s designs, to its present position of critical disengagement, arguing ASEAN’s failure to take a stronger line has less to do with any binding “norms” than with the interests of the region’s predominantly illiberal elites and the grouping’s increasing difficulties in achieving meaningful consensus.