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ASEAN to host ministerial talks amid Myanmar crisis, Ukraine war

Meetings To Include U.S., China As Pelosi's Possible Taiwan Visit Raises Tensions

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Top diplomats set to meet for ASEAN talks. From left: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (Source photos by AP and Reuters)

PHNOM PENH -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will host its annual ministerial meetings starting Wednesday (today) to tackle the deepening regional crisis in Myanmar and other security issues.

The talks in the Cambodian capital will also include external partners, such as the U.S., China, and Russia during the ASEAN Regional Forum security meeting scheduled for Friday. The war in Ukraine and the South China Sea territorial dispute are expected to be on the agenda.

Closer to home, Southeast Asian foreign ministers will discuss the way forward regarding Myanmar, an ASEAN member that has been mired in chaos since February last year when the military seized power and jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Over 2,100 people have been killed under the regime's crackdown, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners. But last week's execution of four political prisoners -- the first such executions in decades -- has exasperated ASEAN.

"The implementation of the death sentences just a week before the 55th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting is highly reprehensible," said an ASEAN chairman statement last week.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Facebook said the execution of political prisoners shows the regime is "making a mockery" of the five-point consensus.

The rebuke reflects growing frustration of ASEAN with the regime led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who last year agreed to the so-called five-point consensus but has done little to resolve the crisis. The five-point plan includes immediate cessation of violence and a special envoy's access to all parties.

But ASEAN said the recent executions showed the military regime's "gross lack of will" to end the crisis. This year's ASEAN chair Cambodia has invited a "non-political representative" instead of the military-appointed foreign minister to the meetings, according to Cambodian media reports.

The series of ASEAN-led talks are expected to be attended by the bloc's external partners.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend and "will address the COVID-19 pandemic, economic cooperation, the fight against climate change, the crisis in Burma (Myanmar) and Russia's war in Ukraine," the U.S. State Department said last week.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also expected to meet regional counterparts. Blinken and Wang will take part in the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia summit ministerial meetings, which are scheduled for Friday.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have escalated this week amid reports that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to visit Taiwan on Tuesday, a move that China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory, has fiercely opposed.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also expected to be discussed, as well as the South China Sea territorial dispute -- an issue that has divided Beijing and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam over competing maritime claims.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been invited and will attend, according to the ruling Cambodian People's Party website.

This comes despite efforts by "external partners of ASEAN" to exclude Russia from many of the meetings, according to Daniel Espiritu, the Philippines' foreign affairs assistant secretary for ASEAN affairs, in comments to reporters in Manila last week.

But Espiritu said that ASEAN "is unique and distinct in the sense that it provides a forum for preventive diplomacy, for peaceful management of disputes and tensions ... even among warring parties."

"We want this distinction to be respected, and for ASEAN centrality to be respected," Espiritu said. "We said no one will be excluded, no process will be disrupted. Everyone is welcome to attend ASEAN meetings."