Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, ASEAN’s new chair, is willing to visit post-coup Myanmar without any preconditions, state media reported, in a reversal of his position toward the Burmese junta, which even the consensus-driven regional bloc had lately shunned.
What’s more, even before getting an OK from the junta for a visit to Naypyidaw, Hun Sen, who is widely seen as leading a pro-China authoritarian government, is planning to invite the Myanmar military-appointed foreign minister to Cambodia next week, the state-run Agence Kamupchea Presse (AKP) reported on Thursday.
“On Dec. 6-7, 2021, Cambodia will invite foreign minister of Myanmar to visit the Kingdom … and I am also ready to travel to Myanmar without any preconditions as Prime Minister of Cambodia,” the news agency quoted Hun Sen at an inauguration ceremony for public works projects in Sihanoukville.
His reasoning is that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should not become a nine-member bloc “to satisfy external partners” by excluding Myanmar from the regional bloc’s meetings.
“I am thinking whether we should keep ASEAN nine or ASEAN 10, because in the recent ASEAN Summit, we have only 9, this is a problem,” he said.
“Are we willing to destroy our own house to please others? ASEAN must not be compared to the United Nations. …The most important point of ASEAN is the consensus, and then it should be 10, not 9.”
Hun Sen was referring to the fact that ASEAN, which is notoriously averse to taking any decision without all 10 members agreeing to it, decided to bar Burmese coup leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from the bloc’s most important summit of the year, in October. After that, Myanmar was conspicuously absent from an ASEAN-China summit on Nov. 22 as well.
The Burmese general, who led the coup that toppled an elected government on Feb.1, was shut out because he had reneged on an ASEAN consensus, which said the bloc’s special envoy must be allowed to visit Myanmar and meet with all parties concerned.
These parties included Aung San Suu Kyi and other jailed leaders from the National League for Democracy, the party that swept the national elections in November 2020.
Ending the violence in Myanmar was also one of the five points of the consensus.
But since the Feb. 1 coup, the junta’s security forces have killed around 1,300 civilians and arrested close to 8,000, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Many of the deaths and arrests have occurred during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to that consensus at a special in-person ASEAN meeting in April in Jakarta – after all the bloc could not have decided on the consensus without Myanmar’s consent – but went back on his word.
‘A pillar is broken’
Now, it appears that even Cambodia has reversed its position on that consensus.
When Hun Sen was handed the ASEAN’s chairman’s ceremonial gavel from Brunei in October, he had stern words for the Burmese junta.
ASEAN, he said, had not expelled Myanmar from its summit, but the junta had “abandoned its right,” to be there.
But now, Hun Sen appears to believe that Myanmar has every right to be in ASEAN, and at all its meetings and sub-meetings. He believes Myanmar is merely a “broken pillar.”
“ASEAN is like a house with 10 pillars, but now a pillar is broken. So, should it be left like this to satisfy external partners or should ASEAN repair its own house?” he said.
“If the house cannot be repaired, what is the so-called solidarity in ASEAN ….?”
ASEAN members-states Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, who vigorously campaigned to shut out the Burmese junta leader from the bloc’s meetings, have not commented yet on Hun Sen’s pillar-repairing plan.
In October, ASEAN had just about regained some credibility with the rest of the world – when it barred the junta from the ASEAN summit – after months of inaction and dithering on its rogue member state, critics had said.
All along though, the European Union and the United States had continued to insist on “ASEAN centrality” to issues in the region.
Meanwhile, ASEAN-member Vietnam’s state-run news service reported recently that U.S. President Joe Biden was proposing an ASEAN summit in Washington next month. If this proposed summit were held, it would be the first in-person meeting between Biden and ASEAN leaders since he took office in January.
The EU and Washington have not commented yet on Cambodia’s overtures to the Myanmar military.
When asked on Friday for information to confirm the report about an upcoming U.S.-ASEAN summit, a State Department spokesperson replied:
“We do not have any meetings or travel to announce at this time.”
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