The bloody political crisis in Myanmar and China’s increasing aggressiveness are overshadowing the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that opened Tuesday in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo told his fellow leaders in the 10-member regional bloc that ASEAN “has agreed not to be a proxy” to any power, and said they “must become captains of our own ship to achieve peace.”
ASEAN has been stymied in its attempts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar, which has been mired in chaos since the military overthrew the democratically-elected government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021. The junta agreed to a five-point “consensus” crafted by ASEAN just months after the coup, which includes an immediate end to the violence, peace talks between the junta and its opponents and the delivery of humanitarian aid.
But Myanmar’s junta has failed to follow through on the ASEAN plan, carrying out a bloody crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations and deadly airstrikes on armed resistance forces that are assisted by several rural ethnic rebel groups who have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy.
The stalemate has furthered ASEAN’s reputation in some diplomatic circles as an irrelevant entity, and has further divided the members on its strategy. The junta has been barred from any high-level meetings, but officials from Thailand held one-on-one talks with junta leaders back in July.
But the leaders agreed Tuesday to strip Myanmar of its 2026 chairmanship of ASEAN and grant it to the Philippines.
Tuesday’s summit comes days after China introduced a new maritime map outlining its claims to a majority of the South China Sea, aggravating tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbors, including who have competing territorial claims.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend this week’s ASEAN summit in place of President Joe Biden, as well as a wider regional forum that will include China, Russia, India and Japan.
Some information for this report came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse.