11 July 2024

ASEAN foreign ministers will hold their first informal meeting under the new chair on February 16th and 17th in Phnom Penh in a hybrid format, allowing virtual participation, according to an informed diplomatic source.

The source said that Cambodia expects all ASEAN foreign ministers to attend the retreat, to set out the ASEAN agenda for the rest of the year.

There has, however, been some doubt over Malaysian Foreign Minister Mohammad Saifuddin’s attendance because he was the only ASEAN foreign minister to openly criticize the chair’s trip to Myanmar.

The source said that Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai recently wrote a personal letter to all his ASEAN colleagues, appealing for ASEAN unity and centrality.

Thailand has been concerned about the discord among the ASEAN members, which negatively impacted the grouping’s image and international profile.

As a frontline state in the challenging Myanmar situation, Thailand has been trying to ensure that the grouping is acting collectively, trying to seek a peaceful resolution to the current conflict, especially a ceasefire, and facilitating humanitarian assistance.

The source said that, after the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, both sides agreed that they have the same objective, namely to bring peace and stability to Myanmar. They need to work together as a team, according to the diplomatic source, who asked not to be identified.

The decision came after close consultation between the ASEAN chair and key ASEAN members. After the scheduled retreat was postponed last month, there were some members who were not happy with the chair’s activism.

Top on the retreat’s agenda will be the current crisis in Myanmar, the economic recovery plan during the pandemic, the operationalisation of the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific and various issues related to the integration of the ASEAN’s three pillars – economic, political and security, social and culture.

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn will brief his ASEAN colleagues on his visit to Myanmar last month, as well as the latest discussions between Hun Sen and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing last week.

It is normal practice for the ministerial retreat to be held during the first month of the new chairmanship.