ASEAN leaders call for measurable progress on Myanmar peace plan

RFA staff
ASEAN leaders call for measurable progress on Myanmar peace plan Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the ASEAN summit held in Phnom Penh, Nov. 11, 2022.
Cindy Liu/Reuters

Updated at 11:35 a.m. ET on 2022-11-11

ASEAN leaders on Friday called for measurable progress in their peace plan for Myanmar amid growing criticism over the Southeast Asian bloc’s failure to stem the deepening conflict in one of its 10 member states.

Meeting at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia’s capital, bloc members reaffirmed their commitment to a five-point consensus agreed to in April 2021 and that aims to bring peace and restore democracy to Myanmar. The country has descended into a bloody civil conflict after the military overthrew an elected government earlier that year.

A statement emerging from the summit in Phnom Penh called on ASEAN foreign ministers to establish a specific timeline for implementing a plan that would include “concrete, practical and measurable indicators” of progress. ASEAN reserved the right to review Myanmar’s representation at its meetings. 

The call for tangible progress came as human rights groups assailed ASEAN’s failure to put pressure on the Burmese junta, which has largely ignored the consensus and resisted dialogue with representatives of the civilian administration it ousted.

Instead, the military has dubbed many of its key political opponents as terrorists or outlaws and waged a scorched earth campaign in the Myanmar heartland.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo speaks to reporters during the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Nov. 11, 2022. [Apunam Nath/AP]

Earlier on Friday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed “deep disappointment” about the worsening situation in Myanmar. Indonesia is set to take over the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN from Cambodia, which is nearing the end of its 12-month stint.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the military coup in Myanmar, was excluded from the summit. Jokowi told reporters he wanted to extend a ban on Myanmar junta representatives, who are barred from meetings of ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers, The Associated Press reported. 

Friday’s statement, however, stopped short of barring the junta from attending other ASEAN meetings.

“Indonesia is deeply disappointed the situation in Myanmar is worsening,” Jokowi said. “We must not allow the situation in Myanmar to define ASEAN.”

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the new president of the Philippines, also called on Myanmar to abide by and implement the consensus.

“While the Philippines adheres to the ASEAN principles of non-interference and consensus, the protracted suffering of the people in Myanmar, in part due to the lack of progress in the implementation of the five-point consensus, also challenges the ASEAN-honored principles of democracy and the respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the ASEAN Charter,” Marcos said, according to his office.

Marcos is the namesake of the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades from 1965 to 1986 and was accused of committing massive human rights abuses during 14 years of martial law.

He urged his fellow Southeast Asian leaders to continue taking a “constructive” approach in engaging the stakeholders in Myanmar, consistent with the ASEAN’s shared vision that is “people-centered and people-oriented.”

“This would include direct engagement with the military administration, but also with all other stakeholders, including the political opposition within the ASEAN framework toward the full implementation of the five-point consensus,” Marcos said.

According to analysts, there are clear fault lines among ASEAN’s 10 members on how to deal with the Myanmar crisis – with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore reportedly taking a tougher line than nations such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

11 PH-marcos-sk.jpg
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) talks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the ASEAN-South Korea meeting in Phnom Penh, Nov. 11, 2022. [AP Photo/Anupam Nath]

Nevertheless, as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kicked off Friday’s proceedings, he said: “Our Motto ‘ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community,’ still holds true to its values today.”  

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of what were actually two summits in one day. ASEAN is required to hold two leaders’ meetings a year but countries that don’t have the cash to pay for separate meetings are allowed to hold them back-to-back.

Also on the agenda were security issues, regional growth and geopolitics.

Marcos seemed to urge caution over global powers gaining further influence in the region. Leaders of strategic rivals the United States and China – President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Li Keqiang – are joining summit meetings in Phnom Penh this week.

Hun Sen and Marcos made their comments a day after the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said that ASEAN-U.S. summit, coming up on Saturday, would try to promote the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, whose signatories include the Philippines.

That framework is widely seen as Washington’s effort to counter Beijing’s huge investment in infrastructure and industry in Southeast Asia and beyond.

“ASEAN is clearly at the center of the region’s architecture, and the U.S.’s strategic partnership with ASEAN is at the heart of our Indo-Pacific strategy,” Kritenbrink said.

The 10 ASEAN members will need international trade and investment partners as the world recovers from the impact of COVID-19. Hun Sen was cautious about expectations of a strong post-pandemic recovery.

“While we are now enjoying the fruits of our efforts and moving toward sustainable growth we should always be vigilant as the current socio-economic situation in ASEAN as well as in the whole world remains fragile and divided,” the longtime Cambodian strongman said.

But in citing forecasts that economic growth in ASEAN would reach 5.3 percent this year and 4.2 percent in 2023, he called these figures “impressive compared to the rest of the world.”

Also on Friday, ASEAN leaders held talks with China, South Korea and the United Nations. On Saturday they with also meet with India, Australia, Japan, and Canada

Next week, there will be summits of leaders of the Group of Twenty bloc in Indonesia and APEC in Thailand.

In 2023, Indonesia could be hosting an 11th member of ASEAN. Leaders issued a statement Friday saying they had agreed in principle to East Timor joining the bloc.

Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, produced this report with contributions from BenarNews correspondent Aie Balagtas See in Manila.


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