Violence in Myanmar and war in Ukraine threaten ASEAN meetings

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Foreign ministers from Southeast Asia gather in the Cambodian capital for meetings on the continuing violence in Myanmar and other issues, joined by senior state diplomats United States, China, Russia and other world powers amid tensions over the invasion of Ukraine and concerns over Beijing’s growing ambitions in the region.

The Phnom Penh meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will see US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov together at the same location for the second time in a month, although it is unclear if the two will meet.

The pair did not meet separately when they both attended the Group of 20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia in early July. But they had their first direct contact since before Russia invaded Ukraine in a phone call on Friday, when Blinken urged Moscow to agree to a deal to free US detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and discussed ‘other questions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also present. Many have urged Beijing to use its partnership with Russia to push to end the conflict in Ukraine and to help promote peace and a return to civilian rule in Myanmar after a February 2021 coup sparked mass protests and armed resistance.

The meetings come at a time of tension between Washington and Beijing as the United States pushes back against China’s growing economic and military influence in the Asia-Pacific.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is touring the region and may visit Taiwan. This has further increased friction, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warning last week that « those who play with fire will perish ».

Communist-ruled China considers Taiwan its own territory and has said it could retake the island by force if it deems it necessary. The United States follows a « one China » policy in which it recognizes Beijing as the government of China while maintaining informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan.

In a call last week with US President Joe Biden, Chinese leader Xi Jinping argued against the possibility of a Pelosi shutdown, which would be the highest-level US visit to Taiwan in more than 25 years. .

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its impact on global food and energy prices and escalating Sino-US friction are of great concern to the 10 ASEAN countries, said Susannah Patton , director of the Southeast Asia program for Australia’s Lowy Institute.

« This is one of the first regional meetings of foreign ministers to be held in person since 2019, so for the United States, China and even Russia, meetings like this are a truly important to demonstrate their support for ASEAN and present their own stories of their commitment to regional security and prosperity,” she said.

Blinken, Wang and Lavrov have all recently battled for influence on multiple trips abroad. After the meetings, Blinken travels to the Philippines and then to Africa.

Biden hosted ASEAN leaders at the White House in May during the group’s first-ever summit in Washington. During those meetings, Biden announced he was appointing one of his top national security aides as ambassador to the group, underscoring the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the United States.

More recently, Lavrov has focused on Africa, while Wang visited several Pacific islands in May and completed a five-nation tour through Southeast Asia last month.

During the trip, he said China was accelerating talks with ASEAN, which includes four countries in dispute with Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea, to propose a non-aggression pact called « code of conduct » to transform the expanse of water « into a sea of ​​peace and cooperation ».

ASEAN meetings also bring together some countries that have or are negotiating partnerships with ASEAN, including India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Great Britain. Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Australia, in particular, has highlighted the importance of ASEAN nations, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong saying last month that they should see new alliances, including Australia’s ‘Quad’ group. , USA, India and New Japan and the group « AUKUS ». from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, as beneficial to the region.

« ASEAN’s centrality means that we will always think about our security in the context of your security, » she told a forum in Singapore.

“We deeply understand how they are interconnected. We believe that Australia must find its security in Asia, not from Asia, and that means, above all, in South East Asia.

Myanmar, where the military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, is a member of the ASEAN group of 10 nations. It is not sending any delegates after other members decided that no political representatives from Myanmar could attend.

Escalating violence in the country is high on ASEAN’s agenda as it strives to implement a five-point consensus it reached on Myanmar last year. It calls for dialogue between all parties concerned, the provision of humanitarian aid, an immediate end to the violence and the visit of an ASEAN special envoy to meet with all parties.

Suu Kyi’s ousting sparked widespread peaceful protests that were violently suppressed. They evolved into armed resistance and the country slipped into what some UN experts call a civil war.

Blinken blamed ASEAN for not doing enough for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The resumption of judicial executions in late July, when the military-led government hanged four political prisoners, provoked a more violent reaction against its military rulers, with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah condemning the act as a « crime against the ‘humanity ».

New sanctions are being considered, and Abdullah said ahead of the meetings that the group should consider removing or revising its five-point consensus. He said the ASEAN special envoy was also due to meet with the National Unity Government, a shadow civilian administration established outside Myanmar, to help develop a new political framework.

« The end game is a democratic, inclusive and just, peaceful and harmonious, prosperous Myanmar whose civil and political rights are guaranteed by the constitution, » he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has proposed that ASEAN hold a special meeting on Myanmar specifically to discuss recent developments.

More than 2,100 people have been killed by the military government since it took power and nearly 15,000 have been arrested, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, a nongovernmental organization that tracks killings and arrests.

« All developments in Myanmar, including the death penalty for political prisoners, show a setback rather than progress from the implementation of the five-point consensus, » Marsudi said.

Cambodia currently holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, which also includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei in addition to Myanmar.


Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee in Washington, DC; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this story.

David Rising, The Associated Press


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