ASEAN

ASEAN to Myanmar junta: Comply with commitment, ‘exercise restraint’

Bea Cupin
ASEAN to Myanmar junta: Comply with commitment, ‘exercise restraint’

Leaders stand for the ASEAN anthem at the opening ceremony for the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh, Cambodia November 11, 2022.

REUTERS/Cindy Liu

(2nd UPDATE) ASEAN leaders in their review, say the situation in Myanmar 'remains critical and fragile, with growing violence as a major concern'

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) leaders reminded the Myanmar military junta to stick to its 2021 commitments, “de-escalate tensions,” and hold accountable “all parties concerned that bear arms” for any acts of violence.

A statement released Friday, November 11, during the ASEAN leaders summit in Cambodia, said the regional bloc again called for the implementation of its “Five-Point Consensus,” which said “ASEAN is committed to assist Myanmar in finding a peaceful and durable solution to the current crisis.”

The statement added, that for ASEAN, the “Five-Point Consensus shall remain our valid reference and should be implemented in its entirety” even if it was being ignored by the junta in Myanmar.

Philippine Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Daniel Espiritu told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that consensus was reached in the early afternoon of November 11, the same day the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits officially opened in Phnom Penh.

Just hours before, diplomats were unable to find consensus, particularly over the mode of decision and on the issue of Myanmar’s representation.

The escalation of the crisis in Myanmar is among the top concerns of ASEAN leaders during the Cambodia summit.

Myanma ‘integral,’ situation ‘fragile’

In its review, ASEAN agreed that Myanmar “remains an integral part of ASEAN.”

The leaders, in their statement, noted that the situation in Myanmar after the junta toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi “remains critical and fragile, with growing violence as a major concern.”

Espiritu said that in communicating the fragility of the situation in Myanmar, ASEAN leaders are “[communicating] a disappointment… in the lack of progress in the junta-ruled country.”

“With little progress achieved in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, it is therefore incumbent on the Myanmar Armed Forces to comply with its commitments to the ASEAN Leaders,” said the statement.

By commitments, ASEAN leaders were referring to the “Five-Point Consensus” that was drawn out in 2021 during a leaders’ meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Still no military leaders

The consensus “shall remain our valid reference and should be implemented in its entirety,” ASEAN leaders decided.

“The Five-Point Consensus shall remain as the valid reference and shall be implemented in its entirety. This was in the face of an attempt to somehow do something more – not exactly replace, but to implement some other alternative plan to this, in view of the limited progress before,” said Espiritu.

Making sure the Five-Point Consensus is implemented is the job of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.

ASEAN foreign ministers will, based on the consensus, draw out an implementation plan that “outlines concrete, practical and measurable indicators with specific timeline to support the Five-Point Consensus.”

No timeline was given for the submission of the implementation plan.

The bloc also stood by its decision to allow only “non-political” representation for Myanmar in ASEAN Summits and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. This means junta officials are still not allowed to represent the state in high-level ASEAN meetings, subject to the review of the ASEAN Coordinating Council.

ASEAN leaders also called on “all parties” in Myanmar to help the ASEAN Secretary General in delivering humanitarian aid to its people.

The bloc also called on the United Nations and other partners to “support” ASEAN in implementing the consensus.

Foreign Ministers have been tasked to monitor the situation in Myanmar and to report to the ASEAN Summit its findings.

No Western-style sanctions

ASEAN, which has a long-standing tradition of non-interference in members’ sovereign affairs, has ruled out Western-style sanctions against Myanmar or expelling it from the 10-member group, even as it condemns increasingly violent actions by the junta such as the executions of democracy activists and an air strike that killed at least 50 people.

Some activists said ASEAN’s decision on Friday did not go far enough.

“The fact that ASEAN still hasn’t suspended the junta’s participation throughout the entire ASEAN system represents a continued lack of leadership on this issue and tacit permission for the junta to continue its crimes,” said Patrick Phongsathorn of Fortify Rights.

Meanwhile, after holding their own closed-door talks, ASEAN leaders also discussed other tensions in the region, including the Korean peninsula and Taiwan, with global leaders including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in separate meetings.

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are scheduled to hold discussions with the group on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend some meetings.

Cambodian Prime Minister and ASEAN host Hun Sen addressed Friday’s opening ceremony with a call for vigilance and wisdom during times of economic and geopolitical turmoil.

“We are now at the most uncertain juncture; the lives of millions in our region depend on our wisdom and foresight,” he said. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.