|The United Nations, the United States, and Other International Communities on Myanmar/Burma
From May 5-6, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a meeting on humanitarian aid for Myanmar that resulted in a plan to distribute aid through a junta task force. Junta official U Ko Ko Hlaing attended this meeting, while the National Unity Government (NUG), civil society, and the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar were excluded. The NUG criticized the plan on the grounds that it would legitimize the military regime and politicize aid distribution. Cambodia is also planning to invite the junta’s defense minister to the upcoming meeting of ASEAN defense ministers in June.
Ahead of a special ASEAN-U.S. summit in Washington, DC, ASEAN foreign ministers met in-person to discuss Myanmar’s post-coup violence and implementation of the Five Point Consensus. At this informal meeting, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah called for ASEAN engagement with stakeholders such as the NUG and the National Unity Consultative Council. Saifuddin went on to have a face-to-face meeting with NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung on May 14, earning objections from the military junta.
NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung met with several high-level officials in the Biden administration as well, including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet. In a statement, the United States pledged its continued support for “all those working peacefully toward the restoration of Burma’s path to inclusive democracy.” Zin Mar Aung also met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has since pressured the Biden administration to enact priorities such as recognition of the NUG, tougher sanctions, and direct aid to the people of Myanmar.
On May 12, ASEAN and the United States convened their two-day special summit, at which the leaders of Myanmar’s military junta were not invited, leaving the country’s seat empty. The summit produced a Joint Vision Statement promising to “redouble… collective efforts towards a peaceful solution in Myanmar”. ASEAN and the United States also reaffirmed the Five Point Consensus despite stalled progress in implementation over the past year. In response, the junta’s foreign ministry objected to some parts of the statement as well as U.S. engagement of the NUG.
On his tour of East Asian allies this month, President Joe Biden’s first stop was South Korea, where he and President Yoon Suk-yeol condemned Myanmar’s coup and urged other nations to both provide safe haven for Burmese nationals and ban arms sales to the regime.
In Japan, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and President Biden made a statement condemning the coup and military attacks on civilians, calling for an end to fighting, release of political prisoners, humanitarian access, and reinstatement of the democratically-elected government. However, in recent weeks the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s ongoing training program for Myanmar officers has come under scrutiny, with one Japanese-trained officer reportedly implicated in serious human rights abuses in Magway Region.
The tour culminated in a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India), which released a joint statement reiterating their condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar/Burma and supporting implementation of ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus.
Australia has moved to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Myanmar, seeking to appoint a chargé d’affaires in place of its outgoing ambassador. The move is intended to avoid legitimizing the military regime, placing Australia in the same camp as the United Kingdom and Germany, which have also downgraded their representatives from ambassadors to chargés d’affaires. In response, the junta claimed that it would downgrade its own diplomatic presence in Australia to the same level.
A proposed UN Security Council press release on Myanmar was vetoed by China and Russia on May 28. The statement had been drafted by the United Kingdom in the aftermath of Security Council briefings by the ASEAN Special Envoy for Myanmar, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, and the UN envoy for Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer. The statement would have expressed concern about the country’s ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis, as well as the lack of progress on implementing the Five Point Consensus.
India is likely not to invite the military junta’s foreign minister to the upcoming India-ASEAN summit in New Delhi next month. This would be in keeping with ASEAN’s general practice of inviting only “non-military”, “non-political”, representatives from Myanmar to its summits.