ASEAN leaders meet with Myanmar's general closed out

Southeast Asian leaders will meet this week for their annual summit. Myanmar's top general has been barred from the meeting because he refused to stop the violence.

ASEAN leaders meet with Myanmar's general closed out

Myanmar protested strongly against the exclusion of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing from the summit of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He is currently the head of Myanmar's government and ruling military council.

Brunei, currently the leader of the 10-nation bloc will host the three day meetings, which will be held via video owing to coronavirus fears. The talks will include President Joe Biden, the leaders of China & Russia and will focus on Myanmar's worsening crisis as well as the pandemic.

ASEAN's unusual sanction of Myanmar was a violation of its core principles of non-interference and consensus. This means that only one member can overturn a group decision. Myanmar rejected the decision to ban its military leader from attending the summit because it violated the principles set forth in the charter.

The group is left with few options, as the general's intransigence increased the risk of it being seen as a refuge for some of Asia's most unpopular tyrants.

Senior ASEAN diplomat who attended an emergency meeting on Oct. 15, where foreign ministers voted to reject Myanmar, stated that these two principles "will not paralyze" ASEAN. While the diplomat called ASEAN’s stronger response "a paradigm shift", he also said that its conservative principles would likely remain.

"In serious situations like these, when the integrity or credibility of ASEAN are at stake, ASEAN member countries or even the leaders, and the ministers can take action," stated the diplomat. He spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity due to a lack in authority to discuss the issue publicly.

The diplomat stated that Chan Aye was invited to the summit instead of Myanmar's top general as the country’s "non-political representative". It is not yet clear if Chan Aye will be attending.

Two weeks ago, Myanmar's military-appointed foreign Minister joined the emergency meeting online. Although the meeting was conducted in calm, some ministers voiced their disapproval of the February 1 military coup that removed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power. The coup also led to the detention of Win Myint, the former President of Myanmar. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Foreign Minister, stated that his government recognizes Suu Kyi as well as ousted President Win Myint (both of whom have been held) as Myanmar's legitimate leaders.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was a strong critic of the military taking power. He said that the principle non-interference could not be used to "avoid issues being addressed". This is despite the fact that the Myanmar crisis has roiled the region. He suggested that officials and others conduct some soul-searching for ASEAN, suggesting that they consider moving away from non-interference to "constructive engagement" or "non-indifference".

ASEAN has been subject to intense international pressure to end violence that has claimed more than 1,100 civilians lives since the army took control and imprisoned Suu Kyi. This has sparked widespread peaceful protests as well as armed resistance. Christine Schraner Burgener, U.N. special representative, warned last week that Myanmar would "go in the direction of an failed state" if violence between the military and civilians escalates out of control and the democratic setback is not peacefully resolved.

After more than 50 years of military rule, Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory. However, the military was still powerful and challenged Suu Kyi's victory in the last November elections of her National League for Democracy party as fraudulent.

ASEAN has yet to recognize Myanmar's military leadership, but it is still a member.

Alexander Arifianto, an expert in Indonesian regional politics at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that the group must "take a bolder stand against non-democratic overthrow of democratically chosen government and crimes against humanity against the Myanmar people." "ASEAN must reform its decision-making processes."

Min Aung Hlaing attended an emergency meeting of ASEAN leaders in April, Indonesia. They agreed to a five-point contingency strategy. They demanded an immediate halt to violence and that a special ASEAN representative mediate a dialogue. He should be allowed to meet with all parties. The military refused to allow Suu Kyi or other political prisoners to meet the envoy in an impasse which is testing the regional bloc.

ASEAN accepted Myanmar in 1997, despite fierce opposition from the U.S. & European countries. These countries cited Myanmar's military junta's history of oppressing democracy and human right. Brunei is also a member of the bloc.