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Myanmar military junta representative attends ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat

On 29 January, the military administration in Myanmar sent a representative to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, marking the first time that a representative from Myanmar has attended a high-level ASEAN meeting in over two years.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat took place on 29 January 2024, kicking off Laos’ Chairship of ASEAN. One of the topics high on the agenda was how to improve the situation in Myanmar, which has been locked in a state of escalating conflict since its government was overthrown in a military coup in February 2021.

In April 2021, ASEAN formulated a Five-Point Consensus, which called for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and the provision of humanitarian assistance. Myanmar’s failure to implement the Five-Point Consensus led to a decision by ASEAN later that year to exclude the junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders from attending high-level ASEAN meetings. ASEAN still allows the military junta to send a non-political representative to the meetings – an invitation which Myanmar has declined until now. The attendance of Marlar Than Htaik, Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry under the control of the Myanmar military junta, at the 2024 ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat therefore marks the first time that Myanmar has sent a representative to a high-level ASEAN summit since October 2021.

All eyes are on Laos as the new Chair of ASEAN, with analysts expressing doubt over whether the nation, as the poorest of the ten-member regional bloc, will have enough influence to implement improvements on sensitive issues such as the conflict in Myanmar and tensions in the South China Sea. Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith expressed cautious optimism regarding Myanmar’s presence at the Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, saying, '[w]e feel a little bit optimistic that the engagement may work, although we have to admit that the issues that are happening in Myanmar will not resolve overnight'. Despite this, there is little evidence to suggest that the military junta is now willing to implement the Five-Point Consensus in good faith, and doubts have been raised as to whether 'ASEAN’s form of constructive engagement will yield substantial fruit after nearly three years in which this approach has been tried and failed'.

See the official Press Statement by the Chair of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat for more information.

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