Myanmar’s junta is confident that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will repair its relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but analysts say the strongman is wrong to think that he can change the bloc’s stance against the military regime.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said a planned visit by Hun Sen, who will assume the rotating role of ASEAN chair next month, would set right the alliance’s approach to Myanmar’s political situation, which was thrown into disorder when the military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup.
Hun Sen intends to travel to Naypyidaw on Jan. 7, accompanied by his newly appointed ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar, Prak Sokhonn, who is also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and deputy foreign minister.
“Cambodia and Myanmar are close countries due to our cultures and historical backgrounds and, as such, when they visit us on ASEAN business, Cambodia will be able to make a correct stand,” Zaw Min Tun said. “And for Myanmar, I hope a fair deal will come out.”
In the weeks and months since the coup, security personnel have committed human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, rapes and killings. Nearly 8,100 civilians have been arrested and 1,346 killed by junta authorities since February, according to the AAPP, mostly during non-violent protests of the coup.
Junta leader Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing initially signaled to ASEAN — of which Myanmar is one of ten member states — that he would end the violence in his country and allow the bloc to send an envoy to monitor the situation following a meeting in April. However, after months of failing to implement any steps to do so, relations between the two sides have spiraled downwards, with ASEAN choosing not to invite junta delegations to several high-profile meetings, including its annual summit.
ASEAN’s outgoing special envoy to Myanmar, Brunei Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, attempted to travel to the country in October, but was refused entry by the junta, prompting the reciprocal snubs.
Unity with member states
Burmese political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that ASEAN’s most powerful members will not accept any change in the bloc’s stance toward Myanmar, even if Hun Sen plans to treat the junta with kid gloves.
“Hun Sen can try as much as he wants to bring [Min Aung Hlaing] back into the ASEAN fold, but most of the ASEAN member states, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, will not agree,” he said.
“I think those two countries will continue to stand firm. And I think ASEAN will continue to adhere to the resolutions set out at the previous meeting.”
Earlier this month, Than Soe Naing said that Hun Sen’s planned visit to Myanmar would be an attempt to give the junta a seat on the international stage but suggested that it would lead to little recognition amid its continued violent repression of protesters.
ASEAN expert Moe Thuzar told RFA that the bloc’s Myanmar policy will not change unless the agreement reached at the summit in April is implemented.
“To change this position, ASEAN would have to carry out a lot of discussion and consultation,” she said. “Many of the leading ASEAN member countries know this. For those countries, they cannot easily switch to a new position until they see a new development from the junta in accordance with the … recommendations already agreed upon.”
Moe Thuzar called it “imperative” that the ASEAN chair only act on Myanmar after negotiating with other member countries.
Adhering to policy
Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Institute of Strategic Studies, a group of former military officers from Myanmar, told RFA that there was no reason why Myanmar should be excluded from ASEAN if the junta adheres to the April agreement.
He suggested that the U.S. is attempting to split ASEAN unity in a bid to counter China for control of the Indo-Pacific region.
“The extent to which U.S. external pressure goes, especially at a time when the U.S. secretary of state is making several trips to meet with ASEAN, will be a major factor in Cambodia’s bid to reseat Myanmar at the ASEAN summit,” he said.
“There will be an impact. But if the ASEAN Charter is to be followed, there’s no reason why Myanmar should not be able to attend those meetings.”
Bo Hla Tint, the ASEAN ambassador to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, said the bloc should continue to adhere to the consensus policy and find a solution without compromising for the military regime.
“The words and actions of a rotating chairman contrast with the current ASEAN stance and the … recommendations members had agreed upon,” he said.
“For ASEAN to have a realistic stance and be a meaningful organization that the entire region can rely on, the chairman or member nations or the whole group must steadfastly work in line with its principles to find a solution. We cannot agree with Mr. Hun Sen compromising with the military leader to find a solution. We totally oppose this path.”
Brunei, the current ASEAN chair, will end its term on Dec. 31 and hand the rotating leadership role to Cambodia on Jan. 1, 2022. Hun Sen has vowed to “do his best for Myanmar” when he assumes the chairmanship.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.