Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Asean foreign ministers meeting centers on Myanmar crisis

Leaders from seven Asean nations stand for a group photo during the bloc's Thursday meeting in Phnom Penh. From left, the foreign ministers from Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos, plus Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi. February 17, 2022. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Leaders from seven Asean nations stand for a group photo during the bloc's Thursday meeting in Phnom Penh. From left, the foreign ministers from Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos, plus Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi. February 17, 2022. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

After Thursday’s gathering of Asean foreign ministers in Phnom Penh, bloc members have reiterated their commitment to the group’s five-point consensus for addressing the Myanmar crisis.

After the meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn held a press conference and stated the Asean leaders had discussed recent developments in Myanmar and expressed concern over the situation there. Myanmar recently marked the one-year anniversary of the Feb. 1 coup, in which the military under General Min Aung Hlaing overthrew the country’s civilian leadership and installed a new junta.

“We call on Myanmar authorities to take concrete action to expedite full implementation of the five-point consensus,” Sokhonn said at the press conference. “We urge all parties to exercise utmost restraint and engage in constructive dialogue [to find] peaceful and inclusive solutions in the interest of the people of Myanmar.”

Besides Myanmar, Sokhonn said the Asean foreign ministers had discussed more general matters of strengthening bloc unity and external engagement. The meeting also underscored the importance of a full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and finalization of its Code of Conduct.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry also confirmed Thursday that Myanmar did not send a non-political representative to attend the meeting. Representatives from Brunei and Thailand joined online, as did the Vietnamese foreign minister from his room in Phnom Penh, since he had tested positive for COVID-19 upon entering the country. The other foreign ministers joined the meeting in-person.

Sounry told CamboJA last week that Myanmar’s foreign minister was not invited to attend the Thursday meeting, noting that military leaders there had rejected Cambodia’s request for a non-political representative to attend.

Min Aung Hlaing was barred from an October meeting of the bloc after the Asean special envoy was prevented from meeting with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the junta leader had overthrown. Suu Kyi was imprisoned during the coup and remains on trial for various criminal charges raised by the military as part of its state takeover.

Since the January 7 meeting in Naypyidaw between Hun Sen and Min Aung Hlaing, the two have had a call in which the prime minister reportedly asked the junta chief to respect the five-point consensus,  implement a ceasefire and allow an Asean special envoy to visit.

Sokhonn said Thursday that, as that current envoy, he intends to use it to fulfill its mandate to engage both Min Aung Hlaing and other officials, especially those with the civilian National Unity Government (NUG). Members of the deposed civilian government formed the NUG after the coup and maintain it is the true national leadership.

“We are of the view that all parties are concerned,” Sokhonn said. “It is just a question of time, but for the time being we want to keep alive the hope to continue to engage with Naypyidaw – especially the hope to keep the trust and confidence of an ally.”

“That is why for the time being we have not yet met any contact with NUG, because of the fact that Naypyidaw has labeled this entity as a terrorist group.”

Political analyst Em Sovannara said Cambodia and other Asean member states cannot resolve the Myanmar crisis on their own.

“I think [Cambodia] cannot resolve the issue of Myanmar and that the Myanmar issue will be handled by the UN Security Council,” he said, pointing out that the military isn’t following the five-point consensus.

Sovannara said the Asean ministers’ meeting also didn’t seem to go smoothly due to the lack of physical presence from some representatives.

“There is not much closeness [in an online meeting] and the goal to push domestic and regional tourism is not strong enough because the meeting couldn’t happen smoothly,” Sovannara said.

Fellow analyst Kin Phea, who is the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the kingdom needs to press the implementation of the five-point consensus with the Myanmar military.

“Cambodia needs to use its diplomatic efforts to lobby military groups to implement [the consensus],” Phea said.

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