The U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit kicks off today in Washington. Heads of government from 8 out of the 10 ASEAN member states will gather to meet with President Joe Biden.

Outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, which just had an election this week, will not be in attendance. The United States followed ASEAN’s lead in refusing to invite coup leader Min Aung Hlaing but offering a spot to a “non-political representative” of Myanmar—an offer the junta has consistently refused.

Myanmar junta rebuked

In a clear rebuke of Min Aung Hlaing, ASEAN foreign ministers also convened an unofficial meeting in Washington the day before the summit to discuss policy alternatives toward Myanmar. During that meeting, Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah called for the grouping to directly engage with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) and National Unity Consultative Council, which includes several of the country’s ethnic organizations.

Afterward, the Malaysian foreign minister said his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn, serving as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar, “in some ways welcomed the idea.” As a first step, Saifuddin will hold a face-to-face meeting with NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung in Washington on May 14.

Five point consensus stalled

ASEAN members are increasingly frustrated by the Myanmar junta’s refusal to implement the Five Point Consensus they reached with Min Aung Hlaing last year. The consensus includes commitments to end violence, open dialogue among all concerned parties, appoint a special envoy, allow that person to visit the country and meet all sides, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

While ASEAN has successfully appointed a special envoy, the junta has repeatedly denied him access to any members of the rNUG or deposed civilian leadership, which the generals characterize as “terrorists.” There has been no progress on the other three points.

Seeking humanitarian assistance

Last week, Prak Sokhonn hosted a consultative meeting on humanitarian assistance in Myanmar with officials from all ASEAN states, the Myanmar junta, UN agencies, and international organizations. The meeting produced no clear agreements, though the Cambodian host claimed that progress was made.

The meeting garnered strong criticism from the NUG and ethnic organizations in Myanmar, who were not allowed any representation and are in de facto control of much of the country where humanitarian assistance is needed. The military, meanwhile, has been accused of preventing aid from reaching many who need it. The meeting laid bare the absurdity of prioritizing engagement with the junta alone and likely added momentum to the Malaysian-led effort to open channels of communication with the NUG.  

The junta has arrested more than 10,000 and killed about 1,800 people outside of combat since last year’s coup. The United States continues to rhetorically support ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus while also engaging with the NUG. But leaders at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit will undoubtedly discuss the need for new ideas, as the Five Point Consensus has failed and there is no end in sight for Myanmar’s escalating civil war.

For more political, economic, and security analysis on the region, check out our blog series, The Latest on Southeast Asia.

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