Myanmar won’t be allowed to lead association in 2026, in blow to generals

Southeast Asian leaders decided that Myanmar won’t take over the rotating leadership of their regional bloc as scheduled in 2026, Asian diplomats and a leader said yesterday, in the latest blow to efforts by its ruling generals to gain international recognition after violently seizing power in 2021.

Western governments led by the United States have condemned the Myanmar army’s ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in 2021 and have demanded her immediate release from yearslong detention along with other officials.

The Philippines agreed to take over the regional bloc’s chairmanship in 2026 at an ASEAN summit hosted by Indonesia, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a statement, citing what he told fellow leaders in the closed-door meetings.

“It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take the helm and chair ASEAN in 2026,” Marcos told his ASEAN counterparts in Jakarta, the statement said.

Marcos did not explain why Myanmar lost the prestigious yearlong ASEAN chairmanship, but two ASEAN diplomats told The Associated Press that it was related to the civil strife in the country and fears that the bloc’s relations with the United States and the European Union, among others, might be undermined because of their non-recognition of the military-led government in Myanmar.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the delicate issue publicly.

Continuing deadly civil strife in Myanmar and new flare-ups in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea were high in the agenda of the 10-nation bloc’s talks yesterday.

Thorny issues including the U.S.-China rivalry in the region have set off divisions within ASEAN, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo renewed his call for unity.

“All of us are aware of the magnitude of the world’s challenges today, where the main key to facing them is the unity and centrality of ASEAN,” Widodo told fellow leaders.

He likened the regional group to a big ship carrying Southeast Asia’s people. “ASEAN leaders must ensure that this ship is able to keep going, able to keep sailing,” Widodo said. “We must be captains of our own ships to bring about peace, to bring about stability, to bring about shared prosperity.”

In a punitive step for their failure to comply with a five-point domestic peace plan crafted by ASEAN leaders in 2021, Myanmar’s top generals and their appointed officials were again barred from attending this year’s summit in Jakarta despite suggestions by some member states that they be allowed back because their ejection had failed to resolve the country’s crisis.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said ASEAN leaders decided to stick with the peace plan despite an assessment that it has not led to any progress in easing the crisis. They designated three nations — the bloc’s previous, current and next chairs — to deal directly with Myanmar’s civil unrest, she told reporters.

Myanmar’s generals will continue to be barred from attending high-level ASEAN meetings, Marsudi said.

Myanmar security forces have killed about 4,000 civilians and arrested 24,410 others since the army takeover.

After their summit, the regional group’s leaders will meet with Asian and Western counterparts today and tomorrow, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is attending in lieu of President Joe Biden, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Asked about the possibility of a meeting with Chinese Premier Li in Jakarta, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said there had been no decision made on that.


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