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Foreign Ministers at ASEAN Meet Push for ‘self-restraint’ Along South China Sea, Condemn Myanmar Violence

Myanmar one of ‘top issues’ discussed after Thailand minister revealed he had secretly travelled to conflict-ridden state, met coup leader Min Aung Hlaing & jailed politician Aung San Suu Kyi.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have appealed to countries to ‘exercise self-restraint’ in their practices along the South China Sea. The statement also mentions land reclamations, in what may be seen as a subtle warning to China about its activities in the region.

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation,” a joint communique from the ministers stated, following the meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this week. The theme of the meeting was ‘ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth’.

ASEAN is an intergovernmental organisation comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. India is part of the ASEAN Plus Six grouping, which also includes China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. 

The statement by foreign ministers also strongly condemned the violence in Myanmar, which has been ongoing since 2021, including the junta government’s refusal to adopt diplomatic channels for negotiations.

The statement came after an unexplained delay, at the end of the 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta Thursday, with media reports indicating that the statement was delayed as members were unable to decide on the section condemning Myanmar.

On Myanmar, the ASEAN foreign ministers said in the statement, “We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities and urged all parties involved to take concrete action to immediately halt indiscriminate violence, denounce any escalation.”  

Myanmar conflict top issue

The situation in Myanmar was reportedly one of the top issues discussed at the two-day meet, especially after Thailand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai revealed that he had secretly travelled to the conflict-ridden state and held meeting with coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and also visited jailed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi days before the ASEAN meet.

Calling the visit “an approach of the friends of Myanmar, who would like to see a peaceful settlement” in the country, the Thai minister sparked controversy as the military junta has rejected all diplomatic requests to meet, as well as to implement ASEAN’s five-point peace plan, which was agreed upon two years ago.

Indonesia, which chaired this week’s meeting, urged the organisation to maintain the bloc’s unity to ensure its credibility and effectiveness. Without mentioning Myanmar in her opening remarks, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi observed that ASEAN “can only matter if it has credibility”.

“So we have no choice but to show that ASEAN can navigate the regional and global dynamics and continue to instill the paradigm of collaboration. We can only achieve this if we maintain ASEAN unity and centrality”, she said, according to her speech shared on her ministry’s website.

While some members reportedly saw the Thai Foreign Minister’s visit to Myanmar as a means to undermine the bloc’s efforts, “a number of ASEAN member states viewed it as a positive development”, the joint statement revealed. 

However, it also stressed that diplomatic efforts should occur “in coordination with the Chair of ASEAN”.

Source : The Print