The political violence in Myanmar is emerging as a key test of ASEAN's credibility as a regional organization.
Reports of unarmed monks and civilians shot and beaten to death by soldiers have shocked the international community. Yet ASEAN, the regional grouping that by rights should have the most leverage to curb one of its own, finds itself in a quandary.
Before Myanmar was admitted to ASEAN, the argument put forth by its supporters was that membership in ASEAN would have a civilizing behavior on the military junta.
As it turned out, the junta has never really shown it cares about ASEAN one way or the other. Instead, ASEAN has found itself increasingly hijacked by the Myanmar issue and having to serve as an apologist for Yangon. The tail wagging the dog, indeed.
ASEAN now faces a crucial choice. It could continue to make excuses for Yangon. Or it could tell Yangon in no uncertain terms that this sort of behavior is unacceptable.
To be sure, there is no provision yet for expulsion of a member country, but a censure or rebuke by ASEAN against one of its own, preferably accompanied by some kind of social sanction at the highest levels, would send a signal that ASEAN is serious about wanting to become a more open, forward-looking community that has the best interests of its citizens at heart.
If ASEAN lacks the courage to take more than perfunctory action, generations hence will remember it as a grouping that once had so much promise to do the right thing for the people of Southeast Asia.