Top ASEAN Officials Meet Myanmar Junta Chief for ‘Cooperation’ Talks

YANGON – Myanmar’s military chief held talks with top ASEAN officials regarding the junta’s participation in the Southeast Asian regional bloc, from which it has been isolated since the 2021 coup, state media reported on May 16.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict sparked by the military’s overthrow of the civilian government, which has displaced 2.7 million people, according to the United Nations.

Despite being a member of ASEAN, Myanmar’s generals have been excluded from top-level meetings due to their refusal to engage in a peace plan and dialogues with their opponents. Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing met with ASEAN special envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun and secretary-general Kao Kim Hourn on May 15 in the capital Naypyidaw, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.

They “exchanged views on the issues of Myanmar’s cooperation in ASEAN,” the state-owned newspaper reported. They also discussed “the best cooperation of Myanmar in ASEAN, the conditions of Myanmar’s participation in ASEAN meetings” and the junta’s plan to hold fresh elections, the newspaper added.

The Myanmar crisis has deeply divided ASEAN, often criticized as a toothless talking shop. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have advocated for tougher action against the junta, while Thailand has conducted bilateral talks with the generals and detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2023, Indonesian officials held discussions with a shadow “National Unity Government” dominated by lawmakers ousted in the coup, which the junta has labeled a “terrorist” organization.

In January, the junta sent a senior bureaucrat to an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Laos, marking the first time the country attended a high-level bloc meeting in over two years.

Since the coup, more than 5,000 people have been killed and over 26,000 arrested in the military’s crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group. The coup ended Myanmar’s brief experiment with democracy and plunged the nation into turmoil. The junta is battling established ethnic minority armed groups and pro-democracy “People’s Defence Forces” across swathes of the country.