The Myanmar military regime has turned down ASEAN’S conditional invitation to its summit, insisting it can only accept the participation of the head of state or a ministerial-level representative, rather than a nonpolitical one as ASEAN has suggested.
As a result, there will be no representative from Myanmar in attendance when the 10-member group of Southeast Asian nations holds its three-day summit starting from today via videoconference. The meeting will be joined by US President Joe Biden and the leaders of China and Russia.
While such high-level meetings are normally joined by heads of the state, Myanmar’s regime leader Min Aung Hlaing was barred from the summit by ASEAN last week for his failure to implement agreements with the regional bloc, and a permanent secretary was invited instead. ASEAN has been trying to mediate Myanmar’s post-coup political turmoil and in April reached a consensus calling on the regime to cease using violence and to allow a special envoy to visit the country, among other steps.
Min Aung Hlaing’s exclusion from the summit comes as a big blow for the junta as it desperately seeks official recognition from other countries—especially those in ASEAN—as Myanmar’s rightful government. The regime faces a contesting claim for recognition by the National Unity Government (NUG) formed by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) and their ethnic allies. At the same time, the regime is regarded as an outcast by much of the international community, especially in the West, for its coup and subsequent brutality in killing over 1,000 peaceful anti-regime protesters.
The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained in a statement on Monday that downgrading the level of the participant and limiting their role in the summit’s discussions was not in line with the ASEAN Charter or the group’s procedures and precedent, adding that the Myanmar representative was being denied the rights enjoyed by other ASEAN member states.
“Myanmar can accept the participation of Head of State or Head of Government or his Ministerial level representative at the upcoming 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits to be held from 26 October to 28 October 2021,” the statement reads.
ASEAN special envoy Erywan Yusof of Brunei has been trying to visit the country since last month. He asked the regime for permission to meet all stakeholders, including the country’s detained leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President U Win Myint, during his tou, but the junta rejected the request, stating that both leaders now face charges. The tussle between the regime and special envoy went on for some time with no resolution, prompting ASEAN to decide last week to shun Min Aung Hlaing from the summit.
The junta has responded bitterly to its leader’s exclusion, issuing a series of announcements. In its previous statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was very disappointed with ASEAN’s decision to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from the summit and condemned the move. The coup leader said the regional bloc’s special envoy made requests that were impossible to accommodate.
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