Myanmar Absent from ASEAN Summit after Exclusion of Its Military Ruler

Leaders of countries in Southeast Asia began their annual summit without Myanmar’s participation on Tuesday (26/10). The summit comes amid a diplomatic stalemate due to the exclusion of the country’s military leader from the meeting.

Myanmar skipped the summit in protest after ASEAN banned its leader general from attending its meetings.

ASEAN’s refusal to allow General Senor Min Aung Hlaing to represent Myanmar at the summit was the strongest rebuke of the country’s military rulers since they removed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

Brunei, which this year became chairman of the 10-member bloc, invited Myanmar’s top-ranking veteran diplomat, Chan Aye, as a “non-political” representative, but he did not attend the meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters in Jakarta.

Retno Marsudi said President Joko Widodo said that ASEAN’s unprecedented lowering of Myanmar’s participation rate was a “difficult decision but must be made.”

Apart from ASEAN’s basic principles of not interfering in the affairs of other member countries and decisions based on consensus, Jokowi stated “ASEAN is also obliged to uphold other principles in the ASEAN Charter such as democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and constitutional government, “said Retno Marsudi.

“As a family, ASEAN’s assistance must continue to be given to Myanmar … Indonesia consistently hopes that democracy through an inclusive process can be quickly restored in Myanmar,” Retno Marsudi quoted Jokowi as saying.

The Myanmar military’s takeover of power sparked widespread protests and a crackdown by the authorities. Security forces are estimated to have killed nearly 1,200 civilians, although the government claims a lower death toll.

Myanmar’s absence from the summit followed its military leaders’ refusal to allow an ASEAN special envoy, Brunei’s 2nd Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, to meet with Suu Kyi and other detained civilian leaders.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the summit that the Myanmar crisis was a test of ASEAN’s ability to solve its own regional problems, said Thai government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Prayut expressed hope that Myanmar would trust ASEAN and allow Erywan to meet with all relevant parties as an important first step in resolving the crisis, Thanakorn said.

The three-day talks, organized by videoconference due to coronavirus concerns, will be joined by other world leaders including US President Joe Biden and leaders of China and Russia. It is the first time since 2017 that a US president has attended the ASEAN summit. The meeting is expected to highlight Myanmar’s worsening crisis as well as other regional economic and security issues. [uh/ab]

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