Asean set to exclude Myanmar junta chief from online summit

General Min Aung Hlaing last met Asean leaders during a special in-person summit in Jakarta, on April 24, 2021.
General Min Aung Hlaing last met Asean leaders during a special in-person summit in Jakarta, on April 24, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Asean foreign ministers met online on Friday (Oct 15) after the Myanmar junta made clear it rejected a key plank of the bloc's road map to resolving the country's crisis.

According to a Reuters report citing sources, the ministers agreed that Myanmar's military chief Min Aung Hlaing - who seized power in a Feb 1 coup - would not be invited to attend the online Asean summit from Oct 26 to 28.

The report also said Asean's special envoy Erywan Yusof would not visit Myanmar this month.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi tweeted after the emergency meeting that Indonesia had proposed that Myanmar "should not be represented at the political level" at the summit until it restores democracy "through an inclusive process".

Brunei, which chairs Asean this year, is expected to issue a statement on Saturday.

Letting Senior General Min Aung Hlaing join the summit without any concessions from the junta would risk legitimising a regime that has killed over 1,000 people and imprisoned some 7,000 since throwing out the elected National League for Democracy government.

Among those detained are State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who are being put through what are widely perceived to be show trials for incitement, sedition and other alleged offences.

Yet, leaving Myanmar unrepresented at the summit would require more resolve than usual from the consensus-driven bloc, which abides by a policy of non-interference.

Asean has yet to formally engage the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow Cabinet comprising ousted legislators and civil society leaders that is rivalling the junta for international recognition.

But Malaysia has said it was prepared to talk to the NUG if dialogue with the junta goes nowhere. Singapore and Indonesia have also voiced disappointment with the lack of progress on Myanmar.

General Min Aung Hlaing last met Asean leaders during a special in-person summit in Jakarta on April 24, when the bloc reached a "Five-Point Consensus" to address Myanmar's crisis.

It called for an end to violence and constructive dialogue among all parties. An Asean special envoy - who was eventually picked in August - was meant to visit Myanmar and try to facilitate the dialogue process. Asean would also send Myanmar humanitarian aid.

So far, only the aid portion has been fulfilled.


A soldier standing guard on a street in front of the royal palace in Mandalay on Oct 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Special envoy Erywan Yusof, who is also Brunei's second foreign minister, has yet to visit Myanmar amid repeated rebuffs of his requests to meet Ms Suu Kyi.

The junta says that is because she is facing criminal charges.

In a press statement on Thursday, it said: "Myanmar has demonstrated flexibility in any possible ways and means to facilitate the special envoy's visit to Myanmar. As Myanmar has been prioritising peace ... in the country, some requests which go beyond the permission of existing laws will be difficult to be accommodated."

Philippine foreign minister Teodoro Locsin was in favour of Asean keeping firm with the Myanmar junta.

"If we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organisation disappears," he said in an interview with Lowy Institute on Thursday.

"All my colleagues in Asean and the leaders themselves, they know that, they share that view."