PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s prime minister on Friday cautioned fellow Southeast Asian leaders against complacency, saying that even though economies are gradually recovering as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, there is much work to be done.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose country holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, warned at the official opening ceremony of the group’s summit that the region is “now at the most uncertain juncture” as it seeks to promote “peace, security and sustainable growth.”
“We are now enjoying the fruits of our efforts and moving towards sustainable growth,” he said. “We should always be vigilant as the current socio-economic situation in ASEAN as well as in the whole world remains fragile and divided.”
He said the summit’s theme, “Addressing Challenges Together,” should be considered “time relevant.”
“There is a saying that disasters and crises can bring out the best in people,” Hun Sen said. “In this connection, I believe that all of us gathering here today share a sense of urgency to work together.”
Hun Sen spoke broadly of “strategic challenges we all face” but did not delve into specifics during his opening address.
One overarching issue, however, is that of the escalating violence in ASEAN member state Myanmar, and how to bring the country’s military-led government, which seized power from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, into compliance with ASEAN’s five-point consensus for peace.
The plan calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all sides.
Myanmar’s government initially agreed to the plan but has made little effort to implement it.
As a consequence, ASEAN has already barred Myanmar’s military leadership from its main meetings, including the ongoing summit, and Myanmar has refused the group’s offer to send non-political representatives.
Talks among ASEAN’s other members — Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei — about how to put pressure on Myanmar to comply with the five-point plan have already been occurring in Phnom Penh since mid-week.
So far there has been no consensus, however, with several countries pushing for Myanmar’s generals to be excluded from lower-level ASEAN meetings as well, with others arguing that that amounts to a de facto suspension from the group, according to a diplomat with access to the discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk about the closed-door meetings.
Story: David Rising and Sopheng Cheang. Rising reported from Bangkok. Jim Gomez contributed to this story from Manila, Philippines.