Jakarta, Nov 15 (EFE).- Southeast Asian defense ministers gathered in the Indonesian capital on Wednesday for a crucial meeting, notable for the absence of Myanmar as the conflict in the military-ruled state persists and tensions escalate in the South China Sea.
Indonesia, which is hosting the meeting as the rotating president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, expressed its commitment to advocating for progress towards a peaceful solution in Myanmar.
“We are saddened by the deteriorating situation in Myanmar,” Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said in his opening remarks.
The son-in-law of former dictator Suharto (1968–1998) and front-runner for the Indonesian presidential election next year, Subianto said his country continued to support Myanmar’s effort to restore peace, stability, and the rule of law.
Without explicitly naming the junta or the pro-democracy forces fighting the military, he said, as the ASEAN president, Indonesia would “promote harmony and reconciliation” in the crisis-ridden country.
“Indonesia encourages other ASEAN member states to support Myanmar to find a peaceful and durable solution to the current situation,” he said.
The Myanmar crisis and the South China Sea tensions are high on the agenda of the defense meeting of the 10-nation bloc, which includes Myanmar.
However, the ASEAN has barred Myanmar from attending its meetings because the military rulers have failed to comply with a five-point emergency plan to end the crisis.
The military that grabbed power in a February 2021 coup faces its greatest challenge in maintaining control over the country after a rebel offensive, which began last month, undermined its positions in several regions.
A joint ASEAN statement reiterated its call in favor of the five-point consensus agreed upon in April 2021 with the military junta. The plan includes ending violence and initiating dialogue between all parties. However, no progress has been made.
The statement also emphasized “the importance of maintaining peace, stability, regional safety, and freedom of navigation and aviation” in the South China Sea.
The statement called for resolving disputes according to international law as tensions rise between China and the Philippines over territorial disputes.
On Friday, the Philippines accused a Chinese coast guard ship of again firing a water cannon at one of its boats in a disputed area of the South China Sea, rich in resources and claimed almost entirely by Beijing.
Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam make up the regional bloc.
The defense meeting will be followed on Thursday by another gathering with eight bloc partners, including the US, China, Russia, India, and Japan.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday.
The regional attention is focused on his possible meeting with China’s representative, Deputy Director of the Central Military Commission Jing Jianfeng. EFE