ASEAN leaders on Friday called for measurable progress in their peace plan for Myanmar amid mounting criticism of the Southeast Asian bloc’s failure to contain the deepening conflict in one of its 10 member states.
Meeting at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia, the group reiterated its commitment to the five-point consensus agreed in April 2021, aimed at fighting a military coup against an elected government that would deepen the civil war.
A statement issued by the Phnom Penh summit called on ASEAN foreign ministers to set out a concrete timeline for implementing a plan that includes “concrete, practical and measurable indicators” of progress. ASEAN reserves the right to scrutinize Myanmar representation at their meetings.
The call for tangible progress comes as human rights groups attack ASEAN’s failure to pressure the Myanmar junta, which has largely ignored the five-point consensus and resisted dialogue with officials from the civilian administration it has ousted. Instead, the military has labeled many of its key political opponents as terrorists or outlaws and waged a scorched-earth campaign in the Burmese heartland.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo addresses the media during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Friday, November 11, 2022.
CREDIT: AP/Apunam Nath
Earlier on Friday, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo expressed “deep disappointment” at the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. Indonesia will take over the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN from Cambodia, which is nearing the end of its 12-month term.
Myanmar’s coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was barred from the summit, and Widodo told reporters he wanted to extend a ban on Myanmar junta officials barred from meetings of ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers, The Associated Press reported.
However, Friday’s statement ended by barring the junta from attending other ASEAN meetings.
“Indonesia is deeply disappointed that the situation in Myanmar is deteriorating,” Widodo said. “We must not allow the situation in Myanmar to define ASEAN.”
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also urged Myanmar to abide by and implement the five-point consensus.
Analysts say there are clear fault lines among the 10 ASEAN members on how to deal with the crisis in Myanmar – with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore reportedly taking a harder line than nations like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Opening the sessions on Friday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen nonetheless assured: “Our motto ‘ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community’ remains true to its values today.”
At the opening ceremony, he actually spoke of two peaks in one day. ASEAN is required to hold two meetings of leaders per year, but countries that do not have the money to pay for separate meetings are allowed to hold them back-to-back.
Security issues, regional growth and geopolitics were also on the agenda.
Marcos seemed to urge caution if global powers gained further influence in the region. The leaders of strategic rivals US and China – President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Li Keqiang – are taking part in summits in Phnom Penh this week.
“It is imperative that we reaffirm ASEAN’s centrality. This is given the geopolitical dynamics and tensions in the region and the increase in engagements in the Indo-Pacific, including calls from our dialogue partners for closer partnerships,” he said.
Marco’s comments came a day after the top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said Saturday’s ASEAN-US summit would seek to promote the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, of which the Philippines is a signatory. This framework is widely seen as Washington’s attempt to counter China’s investment in infrastructure and industry in Southeast Asia and beyond.
“ASEAN is clearly at the heart of the region’s architecture and the US strategic partnership with ASEAN is at the heart of our Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Kritenbrink.
The 10 ASEAN members will continue to need international trade and investment partners as the world recovers from the impact of COVID-19. Hun Sen was cautious on expectations of a strong post-pandemic recovery.
“While we now enjoy the fruits of our efforts and move towards sustainable growth, we should always remain vigilant as the current socio-economic situation in ASEAN, as well as around the world, remains fragile and divided,” he said.
However, he cited forecasts that ASEAN’s economic growth would reach 5.3% this year and 4.2% in 2023, which he described as “impressive compared to the rest of the world”.
ASEAN leaders also held talks with China, South Korea and the United Nations on Friday. On Saturday they meet with India, Australia, Japan, Canada and the USA. Next week there will be further summits of the heads of state and government of the G-20 in Indonesia and the APEC in Thailand.
Indonesia is next to take over the ASEAN presidency and could welcome an 11th member. Leaders issued a statement on Friday saying they agreed in principle with East Timor joining the bloc.