ASEAN’s foreign ministers renewed calls for intensified engagement with all conflicting parties in Myanmar, as the crisis has dragged on just over two years since the military took power from the former civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ministers reiterated the call during their 32nd Coordinating Council Meeting and ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat (AMM), held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
During the AMM, the ministers deliberated on the follow-up to the ASEAN Leaders’ Decision and Review on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), according to the outcomes of the February 3-4 meetings released by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The statement from the meetings, which took place without any representatives from Myanmar present, acknowledged the complexity and difficulty of the political crisis and that it would take time to reach a long-lasting political settlement.
“While cessation of violence and inclusive dialogue are an important step toward enduring peace, urgently building trust among concerned parties is a must. The meeting agreed that engagement with all concerned parties should be intensified in an inclusive and flexible manner, and in accordance with the ASEAN Charter,” it said.
The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to maintain ASEAN centrality and unity in the handling of the crisis in all circumstances. They also expressed their full support for Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi and her Office of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.
“In addition, the meeting welcomed the draft implementation plan for the 5PC, which is a living document that can be further updated in light of progress and development in Myanmar,” added the statement.
The meetings are the first major ASEAN event under the rotational chairmanship of Indonesia which took over the seat from Cambodia. Indonesia set the theme under its chairmanship of ASEAN as “Epicentre of Growth”.
A press statement released by the ASEAN chair said the ministers urged for significant progress in the implementation of the 5PC to pave the way for an inclusive national dialogue in Myanmar.
“We stressed that inclusive national dialogue is key to finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in Myanmar. We also stressed that all stakeholders must create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue by ceasing violence and ensuring the timely and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance,” it said.
On the Rohingya issue, the foreign ministers said they would support Myanmar’s efforts to bring peace, stability and the rule of law and promote harmony and reconciliation among the various communities, and promote sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine State.
“We looked forward to the conduct of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA) when conditions allow and encouraged the secretary-general of ASEAN to continue identifying possible areas for ASEAN to facilitate the repatriation process effectively,” it said.
During the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits and related meetings in November last year in Phnom Penh, the bloc leaders tasked their foreign ministers with developing the implementation plan for the 5PC and maintained that Myanmar’s non-political representation to the ASEAN Summit and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting remained.
The latest meeting marks a historical moment as it included Adaljiza Magno, foreign minister of Timor-Leste, for the first time in these ministerial meetings after her country became in principle the 11th member of ASEAN at the 41st ASEAN summits in Cambodia.
Timor-Leste was granted “observer status” to the bloc and allowed to participate in all ASEAN meetings, including the summit plenaries.
Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn, who last year served as the ASEAN Chair’s special envoy on Myanmar, congratulated the island nation in a social media post upon his arrival in Cambodia.
“It marked another special beginning as we welcomed Timor-Leste, the 11th ASEAN member, in principle. We continued to discuss a range of issues of common interests and reiterated our commitment to ensuring that the post-pandemic recovery is swift and sustainable,” he said.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that ASEAN must solve the Myanmar issue as soon as possible to help the country integrate back into the bloc.
“I see Indonesia’s role as ASEAN chair this year as important because Indonesia is an influential country among ASEAN members. It is the biggest country with the biggest population, a strong economy, and it is a member of the G20, but this year the ASEAN chair faces similar problems to what Cambodia did last year,” Phea said.
He added that Indonesia could learn from Cambodia’s “soft and flexible” approach based on the 5PC, but it should also have different ways to solve the issue with the goal of getting Myanmar back on board rather than leaving it behind.
He also said that another lesson that Indonesia can learn from Cambodia is balancing ASEAN centrality and work in the spirit of ASEAN, rather than individualism. He noted that under Cambodia’s chairmanship, ASEAN had together signed more than 100 international agreements.