The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced over the weekend that General Min Aung Hlaing, leader of the military junta in Myanmar, will not be invited to the association’s October 26-28 summit. The unprecedented snub of Gen. Hlaing was welcomed by the Burmese opposition, which asked ASEAN to go even further and invite a representative from the civilian shadow government.
Myanmar’s elected civilian government was deposed in a February coup. The military claimed it was necessary to seize power because the previous election was held improperly during the coronavirus pandemic and was compromised by fraud.
ASEAN normally avoids entanglement in the internal politics of member states, but foreign ministers from the other members held an emergency meeting on Friday and decided to invite an unnamed “non-political representative” from Myanmar instead of Gen. Hlaing.
Brunei, which currently holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, said the unusual step was taken because the junta has made “insufficient progress” on its promised roadmap back to a civilian government. Over 1,100 people have been killed during protests against the coup.
“Some ASEAN member states recommended that ASEAN give space to Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy,” said the statement from the chair.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said it was her country’s delegation that proposed the exclusion of Gen. Hlaing, arguing Myanmar should not be “represented at the political level” until it “restores its democracy through an inclusive process.”
Malaysia also stated the junta should not be invited until there is “significant progress in the implementation of the five-point consensus” from ASEAN on returning power to elected officials.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), several ASEAN member nations were irritated by Burmese military officials using their invitations to previous meetings as proof of the junta’s legitimacy in propaganda publications. Some members worried ASEAN itself would lose international legitimacy if it continued to entertain representatives from the coup.
The junta said it was “extremely disappointed” in the decision, which it complained was “done without consensus” and was “against the objectives of ASEAN.”
A spokesman for the junta claimed “foreign intervention” was involved in the decision, claiming that “envoys from some countries met with U.S. foreign affairs and received pressure from the European Union.”
The junta’s opponents in Myanmar, on the other hand, applauded the snub.
“ASEAN excluding Min Aung Hlaing is an important step, but we request that they recognize us as the proper representative,” a spokesman for the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) said on Monday.
On Monday, Myanmar state television announced that over 5,600 people arrested for protesting against the coup would be freed and granted “amnesty.” Reuters quoted local political observers who said the prisoners were released to placate ASEAN, the United Nations, and other international organizations.
The junta’s attempt to win friends was not terribly successful, as the U.N. insisted it was “outrageous” for any of the protesters to have been imprisoned or killed to begin with. Also, according to human rights groups, the junta promptly re-arrested dozens of the people it freed.