Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah (C) takes part in the ASEAN-China Summit on the sidelines of the 38th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit held online on a live video conference in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 26, 2021. Hakim S. Hayat / AFP
Southeast Asian leaders begin their annual summit on Tuesday without Myanmar military leader Min Aung Hlaing, who overthrew a civilian government on Feb. 1, in a rare exclusion for the regional grouping usually known for non-interference.
U.S. President Joe Biden will attend here a joint session by video link, but it was likely no one would represent Myanmar at the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Summit host Brunei has said the bloc will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar but there has been no confirmation of who it might be.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry late on Monday said it would only agree to its head of state or ministerial representative, indicating its seat would be empty at the summit.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline here Min Aung Hlaing, who overthrew here a government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ministers cited the junta chief’s failure to implement an ASEAN peace plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support, and granting a special envoy full access to the country.
Since overthrowing Suu Kyi’s government, detaining her and most of her allies, and ending a decade of tentative democracy, Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,000 people and arrested thousands, monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says.
The junta disputes that count as inflated and says soldiers have been killed in fighting nationwide with armed opposition groups.
Myanmar’s junta released a statement on Monday night saying it had informed this year’s ASEAN chair Brunei that it could only “accept the participation of Head of State or Head of Government or his Ministerial level representative” at the summit.
It added Myanmar “would be pursuing due process” under the bloc’s charter to resolve the dispute about participation at ASEAN summits.
On the agenda for Tuesday’s opening day were three separate meetings between the ASEAN leaders and representatives of the United States, China, and South Korea.
Biden will lead the U.S. delegation for the ASEAN-United States summit, the U.S. embassy in Brunei said.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.