Min Aung Hlaing, Supreme Commander of Myanmar’s Military, Yangon | AP Yonhap News
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has decided not to attend the summit meeting held at the end of this month. This is an exceptional measure for ASEAN, which has the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. The position of the Myanmar military government, which has not been recognized even by neighboring countries, is likely to narrow significantly.
According to Reuters and others, ASEAN has reached an agreement to invite a non-political representative to the summit in place of Myanmar’s Supreme Commander Min Aung Hlaing, chairman Brunei said on the 16th. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement on the same day, saying, “It was a difficult decision to exclude Myanmar’s military leaders from attending, but it was necessary to maintain confidence in ASEAN.” The day before, ASEAN member states held a videoconference with their foreign ministers to discuss whether Commander Hlaing would attend.
As a measure directly related to the recognition of the legitimacy of Myanmar’s military government, ASEAN’s decision has attracted the attention of the international community. ASEAN has traditionally been reluctant to pressure member states or interfere in internal affairs. But when Myanmar’s military government failed to keep its promises with ASEAN to resolve the bloodshed sparked by the coup, member states took warning.
In order to resolve the bloodshed caused by the military coup d’état in Myanmar in April, ASEAN adopted an agreement on five issues, including cessation of violence and dispatch of special envoys. Commander Hlaing also attended the meeting at the time. However, bloodshed such as massacres by the military and police continued until recently. At least 1,178 civilians have been killed by the military and police since February, according to the Myanmar Human Rights Organization (AAPP). Citizen resistance continues, and the Myanmar military government has admitted that it is not fully governing the country.
In particular, ASEAN’s special envoy Eriwan Yusof (Brunei’s second foreign minister) recently requested permission to meet with state adviser Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since shortly after the coup, during his visit to Myanmar. During a videoconference with ASEAN foreign ministers, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines are reported to have argued for the exclusion of Commander Helaing from attending the meeting, citing the Myanmar military’s failure to fulfill its promises. Some countries are said to have demanded that the leader of the National Unity Government (NUG), formed by the anti-coup camp in Myanmar, attend the summit.
Myanmar’s military government objected that it was due to foreign intervention. “Foreign intervention can also be seen here,” said Jo Mo-Thun, spokesman for foreign affairs. Earlier, the military appealed, saying, “The first summit must be attended by the government or legitimate political party officials to build trust.”
As a result of ASEAN’s decision, Myanmar’s military government has significantly narrowed its position in the international community. Although China and Russia are known to recognize the military government in Myanmar, experts say that it was the ASEAN countries such as Thailand that were the real cause of the military administration in Myanmar. Thailand’s coup case and the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN countries have been a shield for Myanmar’s military government as well. Eom Eun-hee, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Asia Research Center, said, “The Myanmar issue has been taking place in a regional context, not in the context of the US-China conflict. China’s attitude was also close to waiting for ASEAN to resolve the issue rather than actively supporting the military government,” he said. ASEAN, which came a little late on the Myanmar issue, also defended its pride.
Eight countries, including Korea and the EU, have announced that they support ASEAN’s move. The UN does not recognize the ambassador appointed by the Myanmar military government. The ASEAN Summit will be held on the 26th and 28th via video.