ASEAN holds summit without Myanmar, explores balanced approach

Oct 27 , 2021. 6 hours ago – 04:22 KYODO NEWS

An online summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is held on Oct. 26, 2021, without a representative from Myanmar. (Photo courtesy of the Thai prime minister’s office)(Kyodo)

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN leaders voiced concerns regarding Myanmar at their annual summit meeting Tuesday, held without a representative from the country after its military leader was excluded by the group, and explored a balanced approach for addressing the political turmoil in the member state.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations had invited a senior Foreign Ministry official from Myanmar as a “nonpolitical representative,” but the country’s military authorities boycotted the summit altogether.

“While respecting the principle of noninterference, we reaffirmed our adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government as well as the need to strike an appropriate balance to the application of ASEAN principles on the situation in Myanmar,” said a statement issued by Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who chaired the meeting.

“We expressed the view that Myanmar’s national preoccupation should not affect ASEAN Community building process and decision making,” it said.

The statement appeared to suggest a shift among ASEAN countries on their long-standing principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member countries.

The ASEAN leaders urged Myanmar to allow a visit by the ASEAN special envoy, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, to access all sides of the conflict and try to find ways to resolve issues through mediation, in line with a peace plan adopted by the ASEAN leaders in April.

“We welcomed the efforts by the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar and called on all parties concerned in Myanmar to swiftly and fully implement the Five-Point Consensus, including by facilitating the visit of the Special Envoy to Myanmar to build trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned,” the statement said.

At the same time, the statement emphasized that “Myanmar remains a member of the ASEAN family” and ASEAN recognizes that “Myanmar needs both time and political space to deal with its many and complex challenges.”

The statement said the ASEAN leaders voiced their concerns over Myanmar at the annual summit meeting, which was held via videoconference under Brunei’s chairmanship due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

At the summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said he was deeply saddened by recent developments in Myanmar.

“Myanmar remains a valued member of the ASEAN family. Malaysia looks forward to the return to democracy in Myanmar and participation of Myanmar at the highest level in future summits,” he said.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that at the meeting, President Joko Widodo regretted the uncooperative stance of Myanmar, while stressing that Indonesia continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the country.

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the situation in Myanmar tests the capability of ASEAN to handle issues and solve problems in the bloc.

“Thailand believes in the intellect of all ASEAN members to jointly overcome the challenges on the ground…and return to the democratic process for the interests of Myanmar people for regional peace, stability and prosperity,” Prayut said.

A photo of the videoconference released by the Thai government showed a blank space where a Myanmar representative was supposed to appear during the chair’s opening remarks.

ASEAN foreign ministers decided earlier not to invite Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who in February led the coup toppling a civilian Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, due to a lack of progress in implementing a five-point consensus that had been agreed among ASEAN leaders to find a solution to the crisis.

After the summit, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its absence “does not intend to show its protest against ASEAN or to boycott ASEAN.”

It said the proposed downgrading of its level of participation and limiting its role in discussions and decisions made at the summit would be “contrary to the principles, procedures of the ASEAN Charter and precedent of ASEAN.”

The extraordinary development for ASEAN at its summit comes as the regional group, led by member countries Indonesia and Malaysia, puts pressure on Myanmar’s junta to cooperate with it in implementing the five-point consensus.

The consensus includes sending a special envoy to Myanmar to mediate dialogue between all sides in the country’s political turmoil. But a visit by the envoy has not been approved by the military authorities.

Apart from the summit involving the group’s 10 member countries, related meetings with non-ASEAN countries that are also major ASEAN trading partners, such as the United States, China and Japan, will be held virtually over three days through Thursday.

A summit between ASEAN and the United States was held later Tuesday, with President Joe Biden taking part. His predecessor Donald Trump only attended one U.S.-ASEAN summit, in 2017.

Biden will also join the East Asia Summit on Wednesday, in contrast with Trump, who skipped every East Asia Summit meeting held during his tenure and drew criticism for his perceived lack of interest in Southeast Asia.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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