The US-ASEAN special conference is starting in Washington without Myanmar

The US-ASEAN Special Summit kicks off in Washington today. The heads of government of eight of ASEAN’s 10 member countries will meet to meet with President Joe Biden.

Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not be present at this week’s election. The United States has followed ASEAN’s lead in refusing to invite coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, but has offered to accommodate a “non-political representative” in Myanmar – the junta has consistently refused.

Threatened the junta of Myanmar

In a clear rebuke of Min Aung Hlaing, the ASEAN foreign ministers also convened an informal meeting in Washington on the eve of the summit to discuss policy options towards Myanmar. During that meeting, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah called on the opposition group to engage directly with the National Unity Government (NUG) and the National Unity Advisory Council, which includes several ethnic organizations in the country.

Later, the Malaysian foreign minister said his Cambodian counterpart, Pre-Sukhon, acting as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar, “welcomed the idea in some ways.” As a first step, Saifuddin will hold a face-to-face meeting with NUG Foreign Minister Jin Mar Aung in Washington on May 14.

Five points unanimously suspended

ASEAN members are increasingly frustrated that Myanmar’s junta has refused to implement the five-point agreement reached with Min Aung Hlaing last year. Consensus includes a commitment to end violence, open negotiations between all parties concerned, the appointment of a special envoy, the person being allowed to visit the country and meet with all parties, and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Although ASEAN has successfully appointed a special envoy, the junta has repeatedly denied him access to any member of the rNUG or ousted civilian leadership, whom the generals have identified as a “terrorist.” No progress was made in the remaining three phases.

I am seeking humanitarian assistance

Last week, Pre-Sokhon held a consultative meeting with officials from all ASEAN states, the junta of Myanmar, UN agencies and international organizations on humanitarian assistance in Myanmar. There was no clear agreement at the meeting, although the Cambodian host claimed that progress had been made.

The meeting drew strong criticism from Myanmar’s NUG and ethnic organizations, whose representation was not allowed and where humanitarian assistance is needed where most parts of the country are under actual control. Meanwhile, the military has been accused of blocking access to aid to many who need it. The meeting expressed the irrationality of prioritizing engagement with the junta alone and perhaps added momentum to the Malaysian-led effort to open channels of communication with NUG.

The junta has arrested more than 10,000 people since last year’s coup and killed about 1,800 people outside the war. The United States continues to support the five-point ASEAN consensus and is involved with the NUG. But leaders at the US-ASEAN summit will undoubtedly discuss the need for new ideas, as the five-point consensus has failed and there is no end to Myanmar’s growing civil war.

For a more political, economic and security analysis of the region, see our blog series, the latest in Southeast Asia.

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