Myanmar’s military regime used a rare opportunity to meet with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday to denounce its opponents as “terrorists”.
The informal gathering, hosted by Thailand and held on the sidelines of Thai-Myanmar bilateral talks, was attended by the foreign ministers of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia and the deputy foreign minister of Vietnam.
Senior diplomats from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia—which is set to become chair of the regional bloc next year—were also invited but did not attend.
Billed as a “non-ASEAN” event by Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Kanchana Patarachoke, the meeting circumvented a ban on the presence of junta representatives at high-level ASEAN functions, imposed due to the regime’s failure to implement a “five-point consensus” brokered by the grouping in the wake of Myanmar’s spiralling post-coup crisis.
The consensus, viewed by many critics as ineffective, included agreements by the regime to cease violence in the country and hold talks with all concerned parties, as well as other steps aimed at ending the conflict.
The Myanmar delegation was led by the junta’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, and also included Kan Zaw, its minister of investment and foreign economic relations, and Ko Ko Hlaing, its minister for international cooperation.
In a statement, the regime said that its representatives used the occasion to reiterate its stance on the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG) and the armed People’s Defence Force (PDF) under its command, as well as other resistance forces.
The “Myanmar delegation urged ASEAN member states to denounce the terrorist activities of the NUG and PDF and to discourage any moral, material and financial support to the terrorist organisations,” the statement read.
Despite the regime’s uncompromising position, Cambodia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it hoped the “open-ended informal consultation” would lead to what it called an “exit strategy” for Myanmar.
According to a report by Reuters, the foreign ministries of Indonesia and Vietnam said they were unable to send their foreign ministers to the meeting because it coincided with a visit to Jakarta by Vietnam’s president.
The other non-attendees—Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines—confirmed that they had been invited, but declined to explain their decisions not to join the gathering.
However, a diplomatic source cited a letter from Singapore’s foreign minister to his Thai counterpart to indicate that the country wanted to uphold an agreement reached in November to continue barring the junta from summits and other regional meetings until peace is restored.
“Any meeting convened under ASEAN, formal or informal, should not deviate from this decision,” the letter reportedly said, according to Reuters’ source.