BANGKOK - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen will travel to Naypyitaw, Myanmar's capital, next month amid questions over Asean's future direction on a troubled member.
The announcement of the visit, scheduled for Jan 7 and 8, was made shortly after the Myanmar junta's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin met the Cambodian leader in Phnom Penh on Tuesday (Dec 7).
Mr Hun Sen, in a Facebook post, said they discussed ways to restore cooperation and solidarity among Asean members.
The Myanmar envoy then conveyed an invitation from junta chief Min Aung Hlaing for the Cambodian Premier to visit his country.
Mr Hun Sen's trip to Naypyitaw will be among the first by a foreign leader since the military coup in Myanmar on Feb 1.
It will be closely watched as Cambodia is chairman of Asean next year, and hence will have a major say on whether the bloc's recent decision not to allow General Min Aung Hlaing to attend the summit of its leaders would remain in force.
The Myanmar junta's claim to legitimacy is being challenged by the National Unity Government, which is made up of ousted Myanmar lawmakers and activists opposing the widely unpopular putsch.
Asean, which operates by consensus, drew up a road map to help resolve the Myanmar crisis in April but has made little headway amid resistance from the junta.
While the plan calls for an Asean special envoy to travel to Myanmar to meet its stakeholders in preparation for an inclusive political dialogue, the junta has blocked access to deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been detained since the coup.
On Monday, a court sentenced her to four years in jail for inciting dissent and breaching Covid-19 controls. She faces several more charges brought by the junta.
The four-year sentence was halved on the same day after a partial clemency by the junta chief.
Asean's remaining nine members have asked that Myanmar send a "non-political representative" to recent meetings, including the Asean summit in October and the Asean-China special summit last month.
The junta did not and Myanmar was not represented at the meetings.
Myanmar was similarly unrepresented in the virtual Asia-Europe Meeting summit hosted by Cambodia last month.
But Mr Hun Sen has suggested that this may change, saying on Monday that Myanmar "must have the right to attend meetings" as an Asean member.
Referring to Gen Min Aung Hlaing, he said: "If I don't work with the leadership, whom can I work with?"
In an interview with selected media outlets on Tuesday, the junta's minister of investment and foreign economic relations Aung Naing Oo was optimistic the junta chief would be able to join future summits.
"I believe Hun Sen is making considerations to invite Myanmar to the next summit to restore the reputation and trustworthiness of the (Asean) charter," he said. "We hope Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will attend next year."