PHNOM PENH — Leaders of Southeast Asian nations on Friday began an annual summit likely dominated by Myanmar’s escalating violence and political gridlock, with increasingly frustrated members of the group struggling to get the country’s junta to agree on an agreed peace plan to comply with
Several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) officials have accused Myanmar’s military rulers of failing to implement a peace plan jointly agreed last year that includes ending hostilities and allowing access for a special envoy and assistance.
Cambodian Prime Minister and ASEAN host Hun Sen addressed the opening ceremony on Friday, calling for vigilance and wisdom in times of economic and geopolitical turmoil.
“We are now at the most uncertain point; The lives of millions of people in our region depend on our wisdom and foresight,” said Hun Sen.
ASEAN, which has barred junta leaders from its meetings since last year, reiterated its commitment to the so-called five-point peace consensus last week, but some members have pushed for a stronger stance.
Leaders from the bloc’s other nine countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — were present at the Phnom Penh meeting.
US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will attend the meeting on Saturday, as will Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also be present.
Political, social and economic chaos has swept Myanmar since the military toppled an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi last year, launched a deadly crackdown on dissidents and undid years of tentative reforms toward democracy.
Indonesia’s foreign minister told Reuters last week that the junta, not ASEAN, is directly responsible for the lack of progress on the peace plan and that recommendations are being made to leaders to strengthen its implementation.
Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., in a meeting with Hun Sen on Thursday, while patience is needed in dealing with the crisis, agreed “we can still do more in terms of engagement with Myanmar,” a post said on Facebook by the President’s Press Secretary.
The junta has blamed a lack of progress on the pandemic and being hampered by armed resistance movements it calls terrorists.
James Crabtree, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia, said ASEAN is struggling to deal with internal divisions over Myanmar and other issues.
“Whether Cambodia chairs now or Indonesia next year, these divisions will not go away, and that will likely continue to limit the bloc’s ability to pressure the junta in Myanmar or respond intelligently to increasing competition from major powers,” he said said.
“LITTLE PROGRESS EXPECTED”
The bloc, which has a long tradition of non-interference in members’ sovereign affairs, has ruled out Western sanctions against Myanmar or its expulsion from the group of 10, even as it condemns increasingly violent actions by the junta, such as the executions of democracy activists and an airstrike that killed at least 50 people.
A Western diplomat who will attend the meeting said that while the bloc may try to make Myanmar’s peace plan more action-oriented, “little progress can be expected.”
Officials expect a series of summits in the region over the next seven days will be difficult, with discussions also expected to include the war in Ukraine, the climate and regional tensions over the South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea. G20 leaders meet in Bali next week, followed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok. “The most momentous issues in the region and on the global stage are being addressed,” top US diplomat for East Asia Daniel Kritenbrink told reporters on Thursday. – Reuters