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Myanmar banned from leading Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2026, blow to generals

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders have decided that Myanmar will not take over the rotating leadership of their regional bloc as planned in 2026, Asian diplomats and a leader said Tuesday, in the latest blow to ruling generals’ attempts to international recognition after the violent seizure of power in 2021.

Western governments led by the United States have condemned the ouster of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Myanmar military in 2021 and demanded her immediate release from years of detention along with other officials.

The Philippines agreed to take over the presidency of the regional bloc in 2026 at an ASEAN summit hosted by Indonesia on Tuesday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said. in a statement, citing what he told fellow leaders at the meetings held behind closed doors.

“It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take over and become ASEAN president in 2026,” Marcos told his ASEAN colleagues in Jakarta, the statement said.

Marcos did not explain why Myanmar lost the prestigious one-year ASEAN presidency, but two ASEAN diplomats told The Associated Press that this was linked to the country’s civil war and fears that the bloc’s relations with the United States and the European Union could be undermined for not recognizing the military-led government in Myanmar.

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The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to discuss the delicate issue publicly.

The ongoing deadly civil war in Myanmar and new flare-ups in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea were high on the agenda of the ten-nation bloc’s talks on Tuesday.

Tricky issues, including the US-China rivalry in the region, have divided ASEAN, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo renewed his call for unity.

“We are all aware of the magnitude of the challenges in the world today, with the main key to addressing them being the unity and centrality of ASEAN,” Widodo told fellow leaders.

He compared the regional group to a large ship that transports the people of Southeast Asia. “ASEAN leaders need to make sure this ship can sail and keep sailing,” Widodo said. “We must be captains of our own ships to bring about peace, stability and shared prosperity.”

As a punitive measure for failing to comply with a five-point domestic peace plan drafted by ASEAN leaders in 2021, Myanmar’s top generals and their appointed officials were again barred from attending the Jakarta summit this year, despite suggestions from some member states that they were sent back because their deportation had failed to resolve the crisis in the country.

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said ASEAN would abide by the plan.

Myanmar’s security forces have killed about 4,000 civilians and arrested 24,410 others since the military’s takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organization.

Following their summit on Tuesday, regional group leaders will meet with Asian and Western counterparts Wednesday through Thursday, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, who will attend in place of President Joe Biden, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. .

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said before flying to Jakarta that he intends to provide assurances about the safety of the continued discharge into the sea of ​​treated radioactive wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. The release began on August 24, and China immediately imposed a ban on all Japanese seafood.

Asked about the possibility of a meeting with Chinese Premier Li in Jakarta, Kishida said no decision has been made yet.

Kishida and three ministers recently ate flounder, octopus and sea bass sashimi caught off the coast of Fukushima after the sewage discharge began in an attempt to demonstrate they were safe.

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Regarding the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, ASEAN leaders reaffirmed “the need to enhance mutual trust, exercise self-restraint in engaging in activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and undermine peace and stability, and to avoid actions that could further complicate the situation. situation,” said a post-summit communiqué that Widodo will release on behalf of the other leaders.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are involved in the territorial standoffs in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

“We discussed the situation in the South China Sea, with concerns expressed by some ASEAN member states about the land reclamation, activities, serious incidents in the area, including actions endangering the safety of all persons, damage to the sea environment, which has eroded confidence, increased tensions and could undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the leaders wanted to say, using the same language as in previous communiqués.

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Associated Press writers Edna Tarigan in Jakarta and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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