0212 GMT September 20, 2019
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to attend the Nov. 11-15 Singapore meeting, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a doyen of the group, has served notice he has lost faith in the Nobel peace laureate because of the Rohingya issue, according to Reuters.com.
The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967, and it is one of the thorniest issues yet faced by a group that traditionally works by consensus.
Many diplomats and rights activists say ASEAN’s credibility is at risk if it fails to tackle the matter head-on.
A UN report in August detailed mass killings and gang rapes with genocidal intent in a military crackdown that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh.
Outrage over what the United Nations branded “ethnic cleansing” has brought demands from Western nations for criminal charges and sanctions.
The Rohingya issue comes at an important juncture for a region pushing for more economic integration in response to rising protectionism and a trade dispute between the United States and China.
ASEAN’s Muslim-majority members - Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei - tend to take the toughest line on the Rohingya question, while Myanmar has close regional allies in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Under military control in recent years, Thailand has also provided cover for Myanmar.
In remarks delivered alongside Suu Kyi at a forum in Hanoi in September, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said countries outside Indochina were too critical of politics in the region and questioned whether they understood Myanmar.
The US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those expected to join ASEAN leaders in meetings later in the week.
Singapore will deliver the chairman’s remarks next week so its role in the tone that ASEAN strikes will be pivotal.
A source close to pre-summit discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Singapore is leaning toward a stronger stance because it is the most internationally engaged member of ASEAN and feels the responsibility as host to protect its credibility.
Asked for comment, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said ASEAN leaders are expected to discuss the situation in Rakhine state when they meet next week and, as chair, Singapore supported discussions on the matter.
Earlier this year, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the group had urged Myanmar to give a full mandate to a commission of inquiry to hold accountable those responsible for the crisis in Rakhine state.
That was a toughening of rhetoric that had previously focused on repatriation of displaced persons to Myanmar and reconciliation among communities.
Suu Kyi has previously said her civilian government should not bear all responsibility for the crisis because the military retains a powerful political role under the constitution.