PM Lee Hsien Loong to attend 3-day virtual Asean summits with Covid-19, Myanmar on agenda

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the G-20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan on Oct 12, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will meet global and regional leaders virtually for the second year running at the Asean summits and related gatherings from Tuesday (Oct 26) to Thursday.

Typically a biannual affair, the meetings centred on the 10-nation South-east Asian bloc have been combined this year, with a theme of "We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper" and an agenda largely driven by pandemic recovery efforts.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on Monday that Asean leaders will discuss how the group, together with external partners and the international community, can continue to work towards building more resilient public health systems, supply chains, and economies that can emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic and be better prepared for future crises.

"They will also exchange views on regional and international developments, as well as efforts to strengthen regional cooperation, reinforce Asean centrality, and promote peace and stability," it added.

Asean centrality is a term used to refer to the grouping being central to and having a key say on developments affecting the region.

The spotlight is also on Asean's decision to invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to this week's meetings, instead of junta head Min Aung Hlaing.

The general was at the helm of a February coup and subsequent crackdowns that have killed more than 1,000 civilians and incarcerated thousands more.

International pressure has been mounting on Asean to take a tougher stance on Myanmar's failure to fulfil an earlier agreement to end the violence, allow humanitarian access and open a dialogue with opponents.

The move to exclude Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was out of step for a group founded on principles of non-interference and consensus.

Talks on Myanmar's crisis are expected to continue at the three-day meetings, which will be led by Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, whose country currently holds the rotating Asean chairmanship, with leaders from global powers also joining in.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Asean leaders are slated to attend summits with South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Australia.

The Asean Plus Three Summit with China, Japan and South Korea will take place next, followed by the East Asia Summit. This brings together Asean and eight key partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US - in a group representing more than half the world's population and gross domestic product.

The East Asia Summit on Wednesday will also include briefings by the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation.

On Thursday, Asean summits with India and Russia are scheduled before a closing ceremony, where Brunei will hand its chairmanship over to Cambodia.

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