Suu Kyi to skip Asean summit in Washington

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Brussels yesterday. Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto head of Myanmar's civilian government, will not be able to attend talks with Asean foreign ministers and US Secretary of State R
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Brussels yesterday. Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto head of Myanmar's civilian government, will not be able to attend talks with Asean foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tomorrow as she is on an official tour of Europe. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has declined an invitation to meet United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington this week alongside top diplomats from South-east Asia, citing other commitments, Myanmar officials said yesterday.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi - who serves as Myanmar's Foreign Minister while also being de facto head of its civilian government - will send a senior official in her place, Reuters reported, quoting Mr Zaw Htay, director-general of her office.

The Washington talks come amid signs that some members of Asean, which includes Myanmar, are tilting diplomatically towards China as the Trump administration's policy on the region remains unclear.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and his Asean counterparts are due to meet Mr Tillerson tomorrow for talks covering trade, territorial claims in the South China Sea and crime, among other issues.

Asean stepped back from highlighting the maritime disputes between its members and China at a summit that concluded over the weekend, while Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer ties with Beijing.

Myanmar President Htin Kyaw spent six days in China last month, signing an agreement that will see oil pumped through a pipeline across Myanmar to south-western China, and Ms Suu Kyi is due to visit Beijing for a summit on President Xi Jinping's signature One Belt, One Road infrastructure programme in the middle of this month. Ms Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency under Myanmar's army-drafted Constitution, but effectively leads the government through the specially created post of "state counsellor".

Mr Zaw Htay said: "The state counsellor won't go to the US because she has another meeting with the European Union on that day."

Ms Suu Kyi arrived in Brussels on Monday for the first stop of an official tour of Europe. National Security Adviser Thaung Tun will go to Washington in her place, Mr Zaw Htay said. Mr Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ms Suu Kyi is not planning to visit the US in the near future. But he dismissed the notion that her absence in Washington was an indicator that ties were cooling in favour of China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Suu Kyi to skip Asean summit in Washington'. Print Edition | Subscribe