Incoming ASEAN Chair Hun Sen ‘Willing to Visit Myanmar’

By The Irrawaddy 3 December 2021

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said he is ready to visit military-ruled Myanmar, which would make him the first head of government to meet the leaders of the regime, which has been internationally denounced for its coup and bloody crackdowns on protesters.

More importantly, the proposed visit also raises questions over whether the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s unified stand on Myanmar will last, now that Cambodia has taken over the chairmanship of the 10-member regional bloc. Relations between ASEAN and Myanmar turned sour recently when the bloc broke with precedent and excluded the junta’s leader Min Aung Hlaing from its summit in October after he failed to honor his commitments to ASEAN to solve the country’s political crisis.

Myanmar has been in political and social turmoil since the military takeover in February, as a majority of the country’s population has rejected the coup and resisted the regime by all means at their disposal. The junta has killed 1,302 people so far, according to monitor groups.

Hun Sen didn’t say exactly when he might visit, other than that it would take place after he assumes the ASEAN chair.

“I am ready to visit Myanmar without any condition in my capacity as the Cambodian prime minister,” he was quoted as saying on Thursday by Cambodian media.

The revelation that he is willing to visit Myanmar comes as Cambodia prepares to receive the junta’s Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin on Dec. 6 and 7 for talks on the crisis.

Badly in need of legitimacy abroad and respect at home, the junta would likely take any visits to and from the country holding the ASEAN chair seriously, as it was appalled by the bloc’s decision to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from the summit. The UN this week deferred its decision on whether to recognize the junta’s candidate as the country’s representative to the world organization, leaving in place the existing ambassador, who is loyal to the ousted government.

On Thursday, online news site Cambodianess reported that Hun Sen had raised the Myanmar issue during separate talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

“Should we keep the situation of ASEAN minus one or ASEAN 10? Previously, the ASEAN meeting included only nine members,” he said while questioning the need to exclude Myanmar from future meetings.

He questioned the necessity of Myanmar leaving ASEAN to satisfy its partners, saying ASEAN minus one is not ASEAN.

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