The fact that Myanmar’s generals crave legitimacy is well-known, but the extent to which they will go to save face reached another peak after ASEAN leaders decided last week not to allow Myanmar to assume the rotating leadership of the bloc in 2026 and “strongly condemned” post-coup violence in the country.
The regime responded to condemnation from Southeast Asian leaders by saying it was too busy “building a country based on democracy and federalism” to handle ASEAN affairs.
On Sunday, it even claimed it had asked the Philippines if it could move its term forward and chair ASEAN in 2026, and also inform Indonesia, the bloc’s current chair, of the generals’ decision.
The ASEAN Summit last week decided that the Philippines will replace Myanmar as the chair of the bloc in 2026. The decision was prompted by Indonesia.
This is the second time Myanmar has been unable to chair ASEAN. In 2006, the previous military regime said it was skipping the leadership role because it was working to bring about a democratic transition in Myanmar in line with the generals’ so-called seven-step roadmap.
Myanmar has been excluded from ASEAN summits and foreign ministers’ meetings, for failing to honor an ASEAN agreement—the so-called Five-Point Consensus—on how to handle the post-coup crisis in Myanmar.
In a statement on Myanmar issued by ASEAN leaders on September 5, they said: “We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence in Myanmar, which have caused prolonged suffering among the people, humanitarian crisis, and destruction of public facilities and adversely impacted regional stability, particularly along the border region.”
Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir urged ASEAN leaders to do more than issue a statement. He called for them to take harsh action against Myanmar’s military leaders.
Myanmar will be hosting the annual ASEAN Air Chiefs meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. Many ASEAN members have announced they will shun the meeting.
Even if the regime publicly demands that takes the ASEAN chair in 2026, the bloc will not allow a pariah state to lead it, regional analysts agree. A regime struggling to maintain its grip on power cannot handle ASEAN affairs, they explain.
The junta has publicly admitted that it does has not yet achieved complete control over Myanmar since the February 2021 coup. Myanmar has become a thorn in the side of ASEAN.
Shunned by the West and fellow ASEAN countries, Myanmar’s regime has been seeking new friends and expanding its diplomatic ties with countries in the Middle East and Africa.
It has also taken an initial step to join BRICS, which is dominated by its key allies China, Russia and India.
Last week’s ASEAN Summit decided to set up a “troika mechanism” to handle Myanmar. It will comprise the previous, current and incoming ASEAN chairs.