Myanmar Sits Out Summit after ASEAN Bars Coup Leader

BenarNews staff
Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Washington
2021-10-26
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Myanmar Sits Out Summit after ASEAN Bars Coup Leader Hassanal Bolkiah (center), the sultan of Brunei, the 2021 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, speaks during the virtual ASEAN Summit that Myanmar did not attend, in Bandar Seri Begawan, Oct. 26, 2021.
[Handout via Reuters]

ASEAN leaders began the Southeast Asian bloc’s summit on Tuesday without Myanmar, which stayed away to protest its junta chief being barred from the meeting.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden said he supported efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to hold the Burmese military regime accountable to the bloc’s five-point plan, which aims to restore peace and democracy in post-coup Myanmar.

“Myanmar has been invited on a non-political level. However, as of the commencement of the summit, there was no Myanmar representative at the non-political level,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press briefing.

Indonesia’s top diplomat also reported back on comments made by her boss, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, during Tuesday’s ASEAN meeting.

Jokowi, she told reporters, “regretted Myanmar’s refusal to welcome ASEAN's offer as a family to help Myanmar out of its political crisis.”

In an unprecedented move earlier this month, ASEAN foreign ministers barred junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from the summit, saying he backtracked on a consensus that he had agreed to during an emergency meeting of ASEAN leaders in Jakarta in April.

“[A]SEAN's decision to invite Myanmar’s representatives on a non-political level to the summit was a tough decision, but one that had to be done,” Jokowi said during Tuesday’s meeting, Retno quoted him as saying.

The president reminded fellow ASEAN leaders “that it is important for us to maintain respect for the principle of non-interference, but on the other hand, we are also obliged to uphold other principles in the ASEAN Charter such as democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and constitutional government,” Retno said.

She was referring to the regional bloc’s longstanding policy of not interfering in the domestic affairs of member states.

In the place of the leader of the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar, ASEAN invited a senior diplomat from the junta-appointed Foreign Affairs Ministry as a “non-political representative” to the summit hosted by Brunei.

Being barred from the summit was “a serious blow and a failure on the international front for the junta,” Ye Myo Hein, executive director of the Tagaung Political Studies Group in Myanmar, told Radio Free Asia (RFA), with which BenarNews is affiliated.

A statement issued by the ASEAN chair late on Tuesday did not mention Myanmar’s absence.

It called on the junta to implement the five-point consensus, which includes giving a special envoy to Myanmar access to all political parties. But the Burmese military has refused to do that.

Brunei, the 2021 ASEAN chair, will hand over the rotating chairmanship next year to Cambodia.

On Tuesday, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen had stern words for the Burmese junta, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.

“Today, ASEAN did not expel Myanmar from ASEAN’s framework. Myanmar abandoned its right,” Hun Sen said.

“Now we are in the situation of ASEAN minus one. It is not because of ASEAN, but because of Myanmar.”

‘Very embarrassing politically’

Meanwhile in Myanmar, the junta’s Myawaddy newspaper reported that pro-military rallies were held in 47 townships – including Naypyidaw – across the country, ahead of the ASEAN summit.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said the rallies were held to show there was domestic support for the military government in the face of ASEAN’s snub to the junta.

“The whole country has opposed the junta in the countryside, and ASEAN’s decision to bar them from attending their meetings is very embarrassing politically,” the analyst told RFA.

“In such a situation, these rallies were held to show that they have the support of the people. And the number of people attending are just a little over a cockfight.”

One Mandalay resident, who did not want to be named, said the military also provided security for the rally in the Aung Myay Tharzan township, although soldiers had often opened fire at pro-democracy protesters at other rallies.

“We have never seen these people in our city. They were all strangers. I see them as opportunists who join forces with those who seize power. These supporters were allowed to hold rallies,” the Mandalay resident said.

COUP.jpg

Demonstrators calling for democracy in Myanmar take part in a rally outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) building in Jakarta, April 24, 2021. [AFP]

For its part, the Burmese junta-appointed foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday about Myanmar’s no-show at the summit. Myanmar was not boycotting the summit but merely not attending it because ASEAN had denied the military government representation, the junta said.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told RFA that the administration finds “discrimination against each other and … pressure on each other in our internal affairs,” unacceptable.

Myanmar is a sovereign country and already has strong international friendships, he said.

Those purported friends do not include the U.S., based on President Joe Biden's comments at the ASEAN-U.S. summit later on Tuesday.

“He [Biden] expressed grave concerns about the military coup and horrific violence in Burma and called on the country’s military regime to immediately end the violence, release those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy,” the White House said in a statement.

“He expressed support for ASEAN efforts to hold the Burmese military regime accountable to the five-point consensus.”

President Biden met with ASEAN leaders after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held virtual talks a day earlier with representatives of the National Unity Government, the shadow civilian government in Myanmar, to underscore Washington’s support for the NUG, the White House said.

Biden, who as president was taking part in his first meeting with ASEAN leaders, also announced the intention to provide up to $102 million in new initiatives to expand the U.S.-ASEAN Strategic Partnership.

The money will go toward supporting Southeast Asia’s recovery from COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, promote economic growth, and developing human capital, the White House said.

Indo-Pacific region, South China Sea

Other regional issues discussed by ASEAN members included the bloc’s Indo-Pacific outlook and the situation in the disputed South China Sea, whose claimants include ASEAN members the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

The ASEAN chair’s statement noted that some member-states expressed concerns about land-reclamation activities and damage to the marine environment in the South China Sea that “have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region.”

The statement did not say which nation or nations were responsible for these activities, although satellite images and regional observers point to China.

Additionally, in recent weeks, two separate Chinese survey ships have sailed into Indonesian and Malaysian waters in the South China Sea. While Indonesia played down the intrusions, Malaysia summoned the Chinese envoy to protest.

At Tuesday’s summit, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said ASEAN needed to “remain strong” amid China’s challenge.

He noted that Beijing’s expansive claims to the South China Sea had been invalidated through a 2016 ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The court ruled those claims invalid under the 1982 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Similarly, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Tuesday, “matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and constructively, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.”

China has never accepted the international tribunal’s ruling.

Biden, in his remarks, said however that Washington was committed to “working with our allies and partners to defend against threats to the international rules-based order and to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Marielle Lucenio in Manila, Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta, Muzliza Mustafa in Kuala Lumpur, Shailaja Neelakantan in Washington and the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia contributed to this report.

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