3 ASEAN nations to boycott defense meeting hosted by Myanmar junta

RFA Burmese
3 ASEAN nations to boycott defense meeting hosted by Myanmar junta Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing inspects a fighter jet during events marking the 75th anniversary of the air force, Dec. 15, 2022.
Myanmar military

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are boycotting a major regional defense conference this week because it will be held in Myanmar and chaired by the military junta, regional media reports said.

The annual ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference brings together the top air force officials from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila will not send representatives, the Singapore-based Straits Times reported Sept. 7.

The newspaper reported Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam have yet to respond regarding the conference and the Cambodian Air Force defense chief declined to comment on the matter. Thailand, meanwhile, plans to attend, the report said.

The conference, set to run through Friday in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyitaw is to be chaired by junta’s Air Force Chief Gen. Tun Aung, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain.

RFA contacted representatives of the three countries to confirm the reports that they would not take part.

“The Air Force commander will not attend the Air Chiefs Conference and will not be represented,” Indonesian Air Force spokesman Agung Sasongko told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

Indonesia is this year’s ASEAN chair and the bloc has banned representatives from the Myanmar junta from its meetings.

A spokesperson for Malaysian Air Force told BenarNews that the office of the Air Force commander has not made a decision on whether to attend. Philippine defense and air force officials did not respond to requests for comment about the regional meeting of air force chiefs in Naypyidaw.

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ASEAN defense ministers meet in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 22, 2022. [Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

Indonesia’s, Malaysia’s and the Philippines’ decision not to attend the conference shows that ASEAN’s support for the Myanmar junta, officially known as the military council, is declining, said Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for Justice for Myanmar, which investigates business and government corruption and exploitation. It has also called for boycott.

Maung Maung Swe, deputy defense secretary of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, welcomed the boycotts and said it reflects the increased isolation facing the junta.

“What this shows is that the military council, which has committed various war crimes, is in a political downfall in the international arena and that the international community is no longer willing to deal with them,” he said.

He also said that other ASEAN countries should be aware that their political reputation may be affected if they decide to attend the conference. 

 ASEAN countries that are close to the West will weigh their interests before deciding to attend the conference, said Myanmar-based political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe. 

“The countries that are close to the West will consider that their participation in the conference will bring other pressures on them and cause some impact on their interests as well,” he said. “But at the moment, it’s hard to see how it will directly affect the military council."

RFA calls to junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered. 

Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies that is made up of former military officers, told RFA there is no harm to Myanmar if some ASEAN countries do not attend the conference. 

“[The ASEAN countries] always talk about some issues regarding Myanmar and the ASEAN five-point consensus,” he said, referring to an agreement made by member nations on restoring peace in Myanmar, which has been ignored by the junta.

“If some of them decide not to attend, just let them [not attend],” he said, adding that they would miss out on any information shared during the conference.

Attacking civilians

Gen. Tun Aung, who will chair the conference, was appointed as the Myanmar Air Force chief by the junta in January 2022.

Since then, he has ordered and commanded more than 930 airstrikes on civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a project that systematically monitors and records military strikes. It said that nearly 1,000 people were killed during those attacks.

Former Air Force Sgt. Zeya, who has joined the anti-junta civil disobedience movement, said that other ASEAN countries should not attend the conference to be held by the junta, which is attacking and killing its own people, including children.

"I am truly grateful to and welcome the decision of these three countries to boycott the Air Chiefs Conference to be held by the Myanmar junta which is brutally killing its own civilians and children,” he said. 

“Other ASEAN countries should follow suit, because they would downgrade themselves if they cooperate with such a murderous and unprofessional military.”

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Iman Muttaqin Yusof of BenarNews contributed to this report.


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