Asean leaders gather for first in-person official meeting in three years

The Asean meetings are being chaired by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and will also focus on addressing the turmoil in Myanmar. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH - Asean leaders are meeting this week for the first in-person official meeting in almost three years, as the 40th and 41st Asean summits get under way.

The meetings have been held virtually since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the region’s leaders once again find themselves meeting in the shadow of the latest global crisis – the conflict in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Kyiv signed a peace treaty with Asean, as it sought to build up more international support and partnerships at a time when it is trying to keep Russian forces at bay. The treaty, which is a prerequisite for countries seeking formal partnerships with Asean, highlights mutual respect for independence and territorial integrity and renunciation of the use of force.

Issues pertaining to the war are expected to get an airing during the summits, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Phnom Penh. United States President Joe Biden and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang are also set to meet Asean leaders.

The meetings, which are being chaired by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, will also focus on addressing an ongoing crisis within the region – the turmoil in Myanmar.

Asean had made its stance clear after the February 2021 military coup by shutting out junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and his Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin from top-level Asean summits. Only a “non-political representative” has been invited to some of these meetings. The bloc also drew up a “five-point consensus” peace plan in April 2021 to rein in the violence in Myanmar, which has killed thousands of civilians.

But little progress has been made on these five points, which include an immediate end to violence in the country, dialogue among all parties concerned and the provision of humanitarian assistance by Asean.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is leading the Singapore delegation, and he is accompanied by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Thursday, he met Indonesian President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the summits, where both leaders reaffirmed their shared priorities in promoting economic recovery and human capital development.

The closing ceremony of the 40th and 41st Asean summits and related meetings is set for Sunday, along with the handover of the Asean chairmanship to Indonesia for 2023. This will be followed by the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, and then the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Bangkok, Thailand.

(From left) Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Singapore’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laotian Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh and Malaysia’s Lower House Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Nov 10, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.