Hun Sen officially threw in the towel on solving Myanmar’s political crisis Wednesday, as top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) prepare for a retreat at which the junta’s failure to honor its commitments will likely loom large.
Only a month and a half into assuming the rotating leadership of ASEAN, Cambodia’s prime minister admitted that Myanmar’s military regime has made no progress in resolving the situation in the country and said it is unlikely to do so during the remainder of his year as chair.
“I’m in a situation where I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, so just let it be,” the Cambodian strongman said while speaking in front of dignitaries, including Japanese Ambassador Mikami Masahiro, at the unveiling of a bridge in Kratie province.
“If they don’t want to do it, we don’t need to worry. How can the cart move forward when the oxen are in front of it?”
Hun Sen noted that there are “only 10 more months and 14 days left and my duty [as ASEAN chair] will be finished” and suggested that “the next chair of ASEAN take care of the issue” because of its difficulty.
Hun Sen’s comments followed a Jan. 7-8 trip to Myanmar — the first by a foreign leader since the military coup — that drew widespread criticism for conferring legitimacy on the regime. The visit came barely two weeks after Hun Sen urged junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a video conference to uphold an agreement that he struck with ASEAN last year, known as the Five-Point Consensus.
Min Aung Hlaing, who led the Feb. 1, 2021, overthrow of Myanmar’s democratically elected government, agreed to the consensus when he met ASEAN leaders in Jakarta last April at a summit convened to address the crisis in Myanmar.
The agreement calls for an end to violence, dialogue between the junta and the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD), and for the ASEAN special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.
Myanmar marked the first anniversary of the coup with no progress on those issues, while in the past year, security forces have arrested nearly 9,160 civilians and killed more than 1,550. Military conflict has engulfed large swathes of the country of 54 million, displacing more than 400,000 people.
Hun Sen’s comments also came amid reports that Myanmar would not be sending a representative to Wednesday’s Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, days after the junta criticized fellow ASEAN member states for not extending invitations to its generals to bloc summits. ASEAN has barred high-ranking officials from the junta since Oct. 15 for failing to fully abide by the Five-Point Consensus.
Prospects for change
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian political commentator Em Sovannary said that Hun Sen had handled the situation in Myanmar poorly, in part by failing to meet with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to the country last month.
But he suggested that the situation was not hopeless, given plans for the ASEAN special envoy to visit Myanmar later this year.
“It isn’t a totally deadlocked yet. So, let’s try to begin [a different way],” he said. “If we keep trying, we cannot say it is over.”
But Moe Thuzar, a Burmese expert on ASEAN affairs based in Singapore, said the bloc’s position will not change until the junta shows progress.
“It has got to the point where ASEAN’s decision [not to invite the military’s representatives] is the ‘default,’” she said. “ASEAN will maintain this default position until they see junta implementing the Five-Point Consensus agreements, seriously and fully.”
Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Myanmar analyst based in China, said she expects most ASEAN member states to continue pressuring the junta until it improves the situation inside the country.
“The more the junta oppresses civilians, the more ASEAN countries will keep their distance,” she said. “They will be too afraid to show their support.”
Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on Myanmar’s absence from the upcoming retreat went unanswered Wednesday.
In a statement on Feb. 14, the junta’s foreign ministry said that ASEAN’s decision was not in line with the bloc’s charter, which pledges to respect the sovereignty of member nations, as well as basic principles of the U.N. charter.
Burmese political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe told RFA that he sees no situation in which ASEAN will give in to Myanmar’s military regime if it chooses not to implement the Five-Point Consensus.
“I assume that ASEAN members must be thinking that if they give in it will put the people of Myanmar into deeper crisis or create a tougher situation for political stakeholders in the country and prolong the power of the military regime, instead of leading to an effective solution,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service and Myanmar Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.