Malaysia Warns Myanmar of Exclusion From Upcoming ASEAN Summit

Hadi Azmi and Ahmad Syamsudin
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
Malaysia Warns Myanmar of Exclusion From Upcoming ASEAN Summit Foreign ministers of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) attend a virtual meeting of the regional bloc on Oct. 4, 2021.
[Photo courtesy @VivianBala via Twitter]

Updated at 07:12 a.m. ET on 2021-10-08

Myanmar may be excluded from the upcoming ASEAN summit if its military government does not cooperate with the regional bloc’s special envoy tasked with helping resolve the post-coup crisis there, Malaysia’s foreign minister said Monday.

Saifuddin Abdullah said on Twitter that he made Malaysia’s views known at a meeting Monday of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that included a representative from Myanmar.

The Malaysian minister’s comments came after a report last week that Myanmar’s junta had rejected the ASEAN envoy’s request to meet ousted and jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“At the ASEAN FMs meeting today, I stated that we are disappointed that the Myanmar authority [has] not cooperated with the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar,” Saifuddin said about the virtual meeting.

“[U]nless there is progress, it would be difficult to have the Chairman of the SAC at the ASEAN Summit.”

He was referring to the twice-yearly ASEAN summits, which this year will be combined and held Oct. 26-28.

Saifuddin said that Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s junta chief and chairman of the State Administration Council – the de facto government – had not been working constructively with the special ASEAN envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusof, who was named by the bloc in August.

The junta spokesman said it would be “difficult to allow for [the envoy’s] meetings with those who are facing trial,” Agence France-Presse reported last week.

Erywan had said he would insist on meeting with jailed members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government – including Aung San Suu Kyi – which the military toppled on Feb. 1.

The Malaysian minister’s comment was the harshest public communication by a Southeast Asian diplomat to a representative of Myanmar’s junta since the February coup.

When the Burmese military ousted the elected government, it claimed that voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in the general election last November.

The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing at least 1,158 people over the past eight months.

‘ASEAN should not act business as usual’

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also raised the issue of Myanmar’s participation in the upcoming summit, during Monday’s ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting.

She said no progress had been made since the bloc’s 10 members, including Myanmar, agreed to a five-point path toward resolving the crisis brought about by the military coup.

“The [Myanmar] military has not responded positively to the efforts of the Special Envoy. … Some member countries are of the view that that ASEAN should not act ‘business as
usual’ with regards to this development,” Retno told a news conference.

“In Indonesia's view, it is time for ASEAN foreign ministers to report this situation to the nine ASEAN leaders, and to receive a directive on how ASEAN should engage with Myanmar, especially in connection with the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits.”

Myanmar military-appointed officials have participated in all ASEAN sub-meetings since the Feb. 1 coup, and a warning that such participation may be discontinued will make a difference, noted Aaron Connelly, who leads a Southeast Asian politics program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“If anything is going to motivate the SAC to come even partly into compliance with its obligations under the Five-Point Consensus, it is the threat of a de facto suspension along these lines – as many Malaysian foreign policy scholars have argued for several months,” Connelly tweeted in response to the Malaysian foreign minister’s Twitter post.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, concurred with Connelly’s views.

“Malaysia’s foreign ministry has [the] right idea to exclude Myanmar military junta from the ASEAN meeting in October unless Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Tatmadaw take seriously the grouping's Special Envoy,” he said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago said the regional bloc must put in place “very real consequences if the junta continues to toy with ASEAN.” This could include banning junta officials from meetings and preventing generals from traveling in the region, he said.

“The ASEAN Summit later this month presents the perfect opportunity to immediately put these measures into practice,” Santiago, a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

“Time and again since the coup, the junta has played ASEAN for a fool, using it to try and gain legitimacy.”

ASEAN consensus on suspending Myanmar ‘difficult’

Regional analyst Oh Ei Sun from the Institute of International Affairs in Singapore said he was not hopeful that ASEAN would suspend Myanmar from the bloc or not invite the country’s military representative to the upcoming summit.

Indonesia and Malaysia may not be able to convince fellow ASEAN members Thailand and Cambodia that the bloc should snub Myanmar, Oh said.

“It can only happen if there is consensus, which is difficult, because Thailand and Cambodia would say, what is wrong with having Myanmar at the summit?” Oh told BenarNews, naming countries whose leaders who are said to be close to the Myanmar military.

ASEAN can make decisions only when all member countries agree – a principle that many critics believe is the reason the regional bloc is not effective.

Whether or not these two countries agree to sideline Myanmar, it is unlikely that the Burmese military will allow the ASEAN envoy into the country any time soon, said another regional analyst, James Chin from Tasmania University.

“The junta will only open up once they get the upper hand against the rebels. They need to control the urban areas 110 percent before they will be ready to talk,” Chin told BenarNews.

“The five-point agreement with ASEAN is not worth the paper it is signed on.”

An earlier version misidentified the name of Myanmar’s military council.


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