China is meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for a yearly summit amid reports that members of states rebuffed Beijing’s request to include Myanmar’s top general.
The virtual summit, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, began on Monday without a representative from Myanmar.
This is the second time in a month that ASEAN has excluded Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing from a regional summit.
The general overthrew the elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on February 1 and oversaw a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters that has plunged Myanmar into civil war.
The 10-member ASEAN spearheaded diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, agreeing with Min Aung Hlaing in April, to a deal that included talks with the deposed and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, the military failed to follow through on the agreement, and ASEAN retaliated by barring Min Aung Hlaing from its summits.
The decision is unprecedented for a group of countries that emphasise non-interference in domestic affairs and have their own shoddy track records on democracy.
Josh Kurlantzick, Southeast Asia fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he did not take China’s lobbying for Min Aung Hlaing’s inclusion at Monday’s summit as a sign that Beijing is warming to military rule in Myanmar.
He described the military’s power grab in Myanmar as a disaster for Beijing for the most part.
“I do think China is very unhappy with the situation in Myanmar, and wants to work with ASEAN to try to restore Myanmar to something close, eventually, to the pre-coup status, which was much better for China,” he said.
The coup and subsequent internal conflict have caused instability which has threatened Chinese business interests, sparked a surge of COVID-19 cases, and reignited old civil wars in border regions.
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China-ASEAN summit begins without a Myanmar representative