Sultan of Brunei Opens Virtual ASEAN Summit

The head of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah opened the group’s annual summit on Monday (25/10), through a speech broadcast on online.

His opening speech at the virtual summit did not mention the exclusion of Myanmar’s top general but focused on issues of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and unity in pursuing progress.

“In fighting this crisis, ASEAN and its direct partners need to increase solidarity and cooperation,” he said.

Myanmar’s top general, whose troops seized power in February and crushed one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions, has been ostracized for refusing to take steps to end the country’s deadly violence.

Myanmar strongly protests the exclusion of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing from the summit on the grounds that he currently heads the ruling government and military council.

ASEAN’s unprecedented sanctions against Myanmar deviate from the basic principles of non-interference in each member’s internal affairs. Moreover, ASEAN always decides everything by consensus, which means that the refusal of one member can cancel any decision.

Myanmar has accused ASEAN of violating the principles enshrined in the group’s charter by deciding to bar its military leader from attending the summit. But the regional group said they took the option because of the general’s stubbornness which increasingly risks tarnishing ASEAN’s image as a diplomatic haven for people from the clutches of Asia’s tyrants.

ASEAN decided to invite the country’s top veteran diplomat, Chan Aye, to the summit as the country’s “non-political” representative. Until this news was revealed it was not clear whether Chan Aye would be present.

ASEAN has not recognized military leadership in Myanmar even though the country is still a member.

Brunei, which currently heads the 10-nation bloc, will host the three-day meeting. The summit, which will also feature President Joe Biden and leaders of China and Russia, is expected to highlight Myanmar’s worsening crisis, the pandemic, as well as security and economic concerns. [ab/ka]

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