Relations between ASEAN and Myanmar soured after the military general denied the ASEAN five-point road map to restore democracy in Myanmar which was adopted during an emergency summit in April 2021. The military regime’s denial of ASEAN special envoy’s visit resulted in banning the regime’s presence in ASEAN summit held on 26-28 October 2021. ASEAN maintained similar stand barring the coup leader from attending China hosted ASEAN summit on 22 November 2021.

Cambodia, as the host of Asia-European summit which was held on 25 November 2021, also did not invite Myanmar. ASEAN, with Brunei as its chairman, even invited the Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation from the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s shadow national government, to represent Myanmar in the ASEAN international conference on climate and disaster held on 23-24 November 2021. None from the military regime was invited to represent Myanmar.

Why is Cambodia, after taking over chairmanship, moving away from ASEAN’s ethical position on Myanmar? In the context of China’s politico-military influence over Cambodia, Hun Sen cannot be expected to act independently of China. According to Charles Dunst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies,“expectations for Cambodia’s [ASEAN] chairmanship are low, owing to the country’s past obstructionism in ASEAN, its outright alignment with China, and the sheer number of challenges the region faces.”

Cambodia in 2012 blocked the declaration of joint communiqué on the South China Sea dispute where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei face overlapping claims from China.

According to Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, Hun Sen will act as China’s proxy inside ASEAN. “A good-cop-bad-cop scenario cannot be ruled out” where Cambodia and ASEAN members sympathetic to military ruler and military rule might ostensibly voice some criticism and “China will then step in and allay any fears that the junta may have”. ASEAN consensus on Myanmar is feared to fall apart.

* Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy and a security analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

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