2 min read.Updated: 17 Oct 2021, 06:20 PM ISTFELIZ SOLOMON, The Wall Street Journal
Decision effectively sidelines the regime’s bid for international legitimacy and increases pressure to cooperate with neighbors to resolve political crisis
Myanmar’s military junta will be excluded from a regional summit in late October, foiling the regime’s latest bid for international legitimacy and ratcheting up pressure on the country to cooperate with neighbors on resolving its political crisis.
The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since its military seized power on Feb. 1, overthrowing an elected government, imprisoning its leaders and suppressing pro-democracy protests with violence that human rights groups say has left more than 1,000 people dead.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc known as Asean, will invite a “nonpolitical representative" of the country to its annual summit from Oct. 26-28, the group’s current chair, Brunei, said in a statement Saturday. It said the decision was reached in light of what it called Myanmar’s insufficient progress toward implementing an earlier peace pact and amid a competing claim to the seat by a group representing the ousted civilian government.
The statement said members agreed to invite a nonpolitical figure after they didn’t reach consensus on a political representative, noting that Myanmar expressed reservations about the move.
The decision to effectively sideline the junta, reached during an emergency meeting of Asean foreign ministers Friday, marks a departure from the bloc’s traditional policy of noninterference, signaling some members’ impatience with the military’s refusal to make meaningful compromises. Officials from several member states including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have expressed disappointment with the lack of progress.
In April, junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was invited to Jakarta for an emergency meeting on the crisis, where members agreed to a five-point consensus aimed at de-escalation, but key promises remain unmet. The pact called for an immediate end to violence and the appointment of a special envoy who would be allowed to visit the country and meet with all relevant stakeholders.
Bruneian diplomat Erywan Yusof was chosen as the special envoy, but recently postponed a planned visit to Myanmar after the junta told him he wouldn’t be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader whose government was deposed in February. Ms. Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and faces multiple criminal charges that could see her imprisoned for years.
Myanmar’s ministry of foreign affairs, which is now controlled by the junta, said Thursday that Mr. Yusof’s proposed agenda included requests that “go beyond the permission of existing laws." The ministry didn’t specify which requests it was referring to, but Mr. Yusof has previously said that he requested a meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi.
The decision to block the junta from the summit comes amid a broader dilemma over who should represent the country internationally. The junta says elections last year were marred by widespread fraud, a claim disputed by monitors, and has sought to legitimize its rule. A shadow administration called the National Unity Government, formed by members of the ousted government, has meanwhile rallied for recognition as the country’s rightful representatives.
Myanmar’s seat at the United Nations is also in dispute, as the junta is seeking to replace the country’s permanent representative, appointed by the civilian government, with an army loyalist. That dispute is continuing, though it’s unlikely that the military’s pick would survive a vote by member states if his credentials are approved.