Asian envoy visits to Myanmar may signal pressure on junta to honor pledge

High-level envoys from the three Asian nations with the most influence in Myanmar have visited the strife-torn country in recent days, raising hopes of new international efforts to pressure the junta to honor pledges it made in April on resolving the political crisis sparked by a military coup.

Since Nov. 12, Japanese Peace Ambassador to Myanmar Dr. Yohei Sasakawa, Chinese Special Envoy of Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang and Thai Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai have all led separate delegations to the capital Naypyidaw.

Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation and Special Envoy of the Japanese Government for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, met with junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Saturday. The Japanese philanthropist left the capital early on Monday for Sittwe, the capital of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, to meet with state officials and visit refugee camps for those displaced by conflict.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai flew into Naypyidaw on Sunday and met with Min Aung Hlaing and junta foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin before returning home later that day.

Diplomatic sources told The Irrawaddy online newspaper that “sensitive topics were discussed,” possibly including anti-junta activists based in Thailand along the two countries’ shared border. Don Pramudwinai had met with Wunna Maung Lwin in Bangkok after the February coup, but his visit to Myanmar over the weekend marked the first by a top Thai official since the takeover.

Chinese Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang is currently in Naypyidaw, although it was not immediately clear whether he had already met with the junta chief.

The Irrawaddy reported that Sun had planned to meet Min Aung Hlaing during his unannounced visit -- his second to the Southeast Asian nation since the military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup.

Although Sun’s agenda has not been made public, observers believe that he may urge Min Aung Hlaing to implement the five-point consensus he agreed to when he and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders met in Jakarta on April 24.

The agreement calls for an end to violence, dialogue between the junta and the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD), and for the ASEAN special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Junta spokesman, Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday that the Japanese, Chinese and Thai deputy prime ministers’ visits were aimed at boosting bilateral relations and trade with Myanmar, as well as for the promotion of peace and to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Myanmar.

Zaw Min Tun said the regime is working to implement the five-point plan “to achieve lasting peace” and has no intention of blocking an ASEAN special envoy from visiting Myanmar.

“We will welcome them so long as the visit is in accordance with previous agreements and the [ASEAN] principle of non-interference in internal affairs,” he said.

Nine months after the Feb. 1 coup, the junta’s security forces have killed 1,265 civilians and arrested at least 7,291, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Many of the deaths and arrests have occurred during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

The junta claims it unseated the NLD government because the party had engineered its victory in the 2020 election through widespread voter fraud, though international observers rated the vote legitimate. Military leaders have yet to present evidence backing up their allegation, and protests against the regime continue.

Hope for reconciliation

Observers expressed hope on Monday that the three diplomats would help to bring about some sort of reconciliation in Myanmar as the result of their visits.

Pe Than, a former member of the Rakhine State People’s Assembly, told RFA that he hoped Sasakawa would be able to mediate peace not only in Rakhine state but also throughout the country.

“As chairman of the Nippon Foundation, he might be able to mediate between the two sides,” he said of the envoy, who visited Myanmar in 2020 and mediated a ceasefire between the military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

Ye Tun, a former parliamentary member and political analyst, said that while top diplomats from Japan, China and Thailand were visiting Myanmar at the same time with their own agendas, their common goal might be to bring about a dialogue between jailed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing.

“The problem we have now is that Aung San Suu Kyi is the only person to negotiate with,” he said.

“If they want to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta must first drop the charges against her. At a time when both sides are having a dilemma, she would be the one to discuss with to achieve an acceptable solution to both sides.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD President Win Myint and other top party leaders were detained by the military shortly after the February coup and face a litany of charges critics say are politically motivated.

Ye Tun said that the military would likely not allow international diplomats to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi for the time being and does not appear to be willing to negotiate with her. Zaw Min Tun had earlier told RFA that it was not yet possible for any diplomat to visit with the NLD leader while she faces various charges.

After Sun Guoxiang’s first visit to Myanmar at the end of August, he said he was refused permission to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and was “surprised” by the junta’s tough stance on her, according to international media reports.

Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036Radio Free Europe--Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.