Eileen Ng and Jim Gomez | Associated Press
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Southeast Asian leaders gather this week for their annual summit, where the Myanmar top general, whose forces seized power in February and destroyed one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions, was closed for refusing to take action. to end the deadly war. violence.
Myanmar has defiantly protested the expulsion of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who currently chairs its government and ruling military council, from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
Brunei, which currently leads the 10-nation bloc, will hold three-day meetings starting Tuesday via video over coronavirus concerns. President Joe Biden and the leaders of China and Russia will join the talks. The talks are expected to highlight the deepening crisis and pandemic of Myanmar, as well as security and economic issues.
The unprecedented ASEAN sanctions on Myanmar depart from its fundamental principles of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and consensus-based decision-making, which means that only one member can effectively reject a group decision. Myanmar cited a violation of these principles enshrined in the group’s charter by rejecting a decision to keep its military leader out of the summit.
But the regional group has several other options, as the general’s intransigence risks further damaging its image as a diplomatic haven for some of Asia’s most implacable tyrants.
A senior ASEAN diplomat, who joined the emergency meeting on October 15, at which foreign ministers decided to fight back against Myanmar, said the two principles bind but “do not paralyze” the bloc. The diplomat called ASEAN’s more decisive response a “paradigm shift”, but added that his conservative principles are likely to remain.
“In serious cases like this, where the integrity and credibility of ASEAN is at stake, ASEAN member states or even leaders and ministers have that leeway,” said the diplomat, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because lack of authority to publicly discuss issues.
According to the diplomat, instead of the main general of Myanmar, a high-ranking veteran diplomat of the country, Chan Aye, was invited to the summit as a “non-political” representative of the country. It is not yet clear if Chang Ai will attend.
Two weeks ago, Myanmar’s military-designated foreign minister joined an emergency online meeting. The meeting went smoothly, although some ministers bluntly expressed their opposition to the February 1 military coup that toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, which won the vote last November overwhelmingly. According to the diplomat, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said his government continues to recognize Suu Kyi and ousted President Vin Myint, both of whom have been detained, as the legitimate leaders of Myanmar.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Sayfuddin Abdullah, a staunch critic of the military takeover, told his ASEAN colleagues that the principle of laissez-faire cannot be used “as a shield to avoid solving problems,” given that the Myanmar crisis has alarmed the region. In a separate online forum last week, he invited officials and others to “do some self-assessment” of ASEAN “about the possibility of moving away from laissez-faire towards“ constructive engagement ”or“ indifference ”.
ASEAN is under intense international pressure to take action to help end the violence that has killed about 1,100 civilians since the army took over and locked up Suu Kyi and others, sparking widespread peaceful protests and armed resistance. UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener warned last week that Myanmar will “head towards a failed state” if violent conflicts between the military, civilians and ethnic minorities spiral out of control and democratic retreat is not resolved peacefully.
Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in 2015 after more than five decades of military rule. But the military remained powerful and contested the victory of her National League for Democracy party in elections last November as fraudulent.
ASEAN has not recognized the military leadership, although Myanmar remains a member.
The group “must take a bolder step to oppose the undemocratic overthrow of a democratically elected government and crimes against humanity against the people of Myanmar,” said Alexander Arifianto, an Indonesian regional policy expert at the Singapore School of International Studies. S. Rajaratnam. “ASEAN needs to reform its decision-making process.”
ASEAN leaders agreed on a five-point contingency plan at an emergency meeting in April in Indonesia attended by Min Aung Hlaing. They called for an immediate end to the violence and a dialogue mediated by the ASEAN Special Envoy, who should be allowed to meet with all parties. But later, the military repeatedly refused to allow the envoy to meet with Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, amid an impasse that the regional bloc is experiencing.
ASEAN recognized Myanmar in 1997, despite strong opposition from the United States and European countries, which then referred to the suppression of democracy and human rights by their military junta. Other members of the block are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines. Associated Press authors Grant Peck from Bangkok and Niniek Karmini from Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.