ASEAN leaders meet at summit dominated by Myanmar crisis
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ASEAN leaders meet at summit dominated by Myanmar crisis

Southeast Asian leaders met in Indonesia on Tuesday to seek a united voice on the yearslong Myanmar crisis as the Philippines said it was ready to replace the country's junta rulers as chair of the bloc in 2026.
ASEAN leaders meet at summit dominated by Myanmar crisis

JAKARTA – Southeast Asian leaders met in Indonesia on Tuesday to seek a united voice on the yearslong Myanmar crisis as the Philippines said it was ready to replace the country's junta rulers as chair of the bloc in 2026.

Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a 2021 military coup deposed Aung San Suu Kyi's government and unleashed a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — long decried by critics as a toothless talking shop — has been left divided over how to deal with Myanmar's rulers and other issues including Beijing's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

"ASEAN has agreed ... to cooperate with anyone for peace and prosperity," said Indonesian President Joko Widodo, opening talks in the capital Jakarta.

"We have to be captains of our own ship to achieve peace."

A draft joint communique seen by reporters left blank its Myanmar section, illustrating the lack of consensus in the 10-member bloc, whose peace efforts have so far been fruitless.

But Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Manila was ready to step in to chair the bloc in 2026 instead of Myanmar, without disclosing the reason.

"It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take the helm and chair ASEAN in 2026," he told leaders, according to a statement from the presidential palace.

"We will ... navigate ASEAN as it embarks on a new chapter."

Two Southeast Asian diplomats said the move was agreed by leaders so the crisis would not hijack the bloc's agenda and prevent "external partners" attending their gatherings.

"It's been decided. It was announced at the leaders' meeting and there was no objection," one diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

ASEAN wrote to the Philippines to ask if it was willing to accept the chair for that year and Manila accepted, the diplomat said.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attends the retreat session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta on Tuesday.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attends the retreat session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta on Tuesday. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJI

Chair Indonesia has pushed for the junta — which is barred from the bloc's high-level meetings — to enforce a five-point plan agreed two years ago to end the violence and restart negotiations.

A second diplomat, who also declined to be identified, said there was no objection to the switch after "leaders' assessment on the progress" of the plan.

The change "will be reflected in some of the ASEAN outcome documents," they said.

Myanmar previously withdrew from the ASEAN chair in 2006 to spare the bloc from a damaging Western boycott. The chair went to the Philippines that year.

Myanmar chaired the bloc in 2014 under Thein Sein, the country's first civilian head of state in more than 50 years.

Another regional diplomat said some ASEAN members were pushing for the junta to be re-invited to the meetings.

Thailand has held unilateral meetings with the junta and deposed democracy leader Suu Kyi in recent months, further dividing the bloc.

Some in the bloc fear Bangkok's different track has undermined Indonesia's "quiet diplomacy" as ASEAN chair.

As the summit proceeded without a political representative from Myanmar, officials from military-sanctioned political parties in the country said the junta would likely hold elections in 2025.

But the United States has said any elections under the junta would be a "sham."

Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry said Tuesday its permanent representative to ASEAN met senior officials in Jakarta last week, emphasizing noninterference in member states' affairs as outlined in the bloc's charter.

Beijing's actions in the South China Sea — which it claims almost in its entirety — were also to feature prominently, according to the draft communique.

China released a new official map last week claiming sovereignty over the majority of the South China Sea, deepening the rift between Beijing and Southeast Asian countries over the waterway.

The map sparked sharp rebukes from countries around the region, including Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Leaders were to express concern about "land reclamations, activities, serious incidents" in the waterway, the draft communique said.

Another Southeast Asian diplomatic source said leaders would aim for the "aspirational goal" of concluding talks with China over a code of conduct in the South China Sea by 2026.

Later in the week, Indonesia will host the 18-nation East Asia Summit, which will include the United States, China, Japan, India and Russia.

Representing Beijing and Moscow will be Premier Li Qiang and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend in place of President Joe Biden, taking part in a roundtable with Moscow's top diplomat.

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Southeast Asian leaders met in Indonesia on Tuesday to seek a united voice on the yearslong Myanmar crisis as the Philippines said it was ready to replace the country's junta rulers as chair of the bloc in 2026.https://assets-global.website-files.com/64f09a9491a5b2230a3c612b/64fae58aa80abcc43ea9c971_download.jpeg