Asean the Southeast Asian leaders issued a “warning” to Myanmar on Friday to make progress on a peace plan or face being barred from future Asean meetings other than the annual summit.
According to Asean Nations, after “little progress” on the five-point peace agreement reached jointly last year, leaders concluded that “concrete, practical, and indicators with a specific timeline” were required.
It went on to say that Asean would look into Myanmar’s representation at all levels of meetings after barring its military Junta leaders from its summit and Asean foreign ministers’ meetings since last year.
On Friday, Myanmar’s seat was empty at the summit in Cambodia’s capital.
Except for Myanmar’s foreign minister, Asean foreign ministers agreed to “engage all stakeholders soon” in a 15-point statement hashed out over two days of debated talks.
Myanmar Junta defiant over peace
Meetings with representatives of the National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel body of Myanmar’s former lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s deposed party, are likely.
Nay Pyi Taw reacted quickly and angrily to the move.
“Myanmar strongly opposes and condemns Asean member states’ attempts to engage with those unlawful and terrorist organizations through any means” the Junta foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, said Asean’s statement sent “a unified message or even a warning to the Myanmar Junta” after saying last week that Myanmar’s military regime was to blame for the failing peace process.
Myanmar has been in political, social, and economic turmoil since the military Junta overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, unleashing a deadly crackdown on dissent that has unraveled years of tentative reform toward democracy.
Asean, which has a long history of not interfering in its members’ sovereign affairs, has ruled out Western-style sanctions or expulsion of Myanmar from the 10-member Group, despite condemning the junta’s increasingly violent actions, such as the unlawful executions of democracy activists and air strikes on villages and innocent people.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo proposed barring Myanmar’s junta from attending events other than the big summits, but the bloc’s final statement said such measures would not be taken yet. The summit website contains links to all of the official statements.
Humanitarian assistance in Myanmar
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha regarded Asean’s role in the Myanmar situation as critical. “All parties must work together to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need in Myanmar,” he said, according to a government statement.
According to some activists, Asean’s edicts on Friday did not go far enough.
“The fact that Asean has yet to suspend the junta’s participation throughout the Asean system demonstrates a complete lack of understanding and tacit permission for the junta to continue its crimes,” Fortify Rights’ Patrick Phongsathorn said.
Following their closed-door meeting on Friday, Asean leaders met separately with world leaders, including China’s Premier Li Keqiang and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, to discuss other regional tensions, including the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet with the Group. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend some meetings.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the opening ceremony on Friday, urging vigilance and wisdom in this economic and geopolitical turmoil.
“We are now at a critical juncture; the lives of millions of people in our region depend on our foresight and wisdom,” he said.
At the summit, Asean agreed to accept East Timor as the Group’s 11th member in principle. Asia’s newest democracy began the accession process in 2002 but did not formally apply for membership until 2011. Other recent developments include:
Dealing with an Assertive China
Despite the pandemic and the complex international landscape, China’s ties with Southeast Asia have strengthened, according to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in a reminder to regional and global leaders of Beijing’s growing economic clout.
Li laid the groundwork for China and the United States to present their competing interests at the weekend summit.
Joe Biden, the first US President to attend the meeting since 2017, is expected to advocate for Washington’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s military and technological assertiveness in the region.
The Asean summit is also being slated as a warm-up for Biden’s meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 meetings next week in Indonesia.
South Korea will help to build a prosperous Indo-Pacific by improving the region’s supply chains and bolstering economic security, Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told Asean leaders.
“The Indo-Pacific region contains 65% of the world’s population and more than 60% of its GDP.” “The region transports half of the world’s seaborne cargo,” he said.
South China Sea and China
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos pushed for an early conclusion to the decades-long process of developing a code of understanding and conduct for the South China Sea.
“I welcome the progress on textual negotiations on the COC this past year, and I hope to see an approved code of conduct very shortly,” Marcos said during the Asean leaders’ meeting with Chinese Premier Li.