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Myanmar Crisis

Duterte and Prayuth to skip ASEAN summit on Myanmar crisis

Absence of leaders casts shadow on bloc's attempts to make progress

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will skip the ASEAN summit this Saturday on the crisis in Myanmar. (Nikkei montage/AP and Ken Kobayashi)

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will skip a Southeast Asian summit this Saturday on the crisis in Myanmar, reducing the number of leaders who will attend the meeting in Jakarta.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will represent Duterte, who has to deal with his country's COVID crisis, according to a foreign ministry statement. The Philippines has logged record daily cases in recent weeks.

Despite Duterte's absence, the Philippines said it "strongly supported" the meeting even without the full attendance of leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The leader of Myanmar's junta Min Aung Hlaing is set to attend the summit, a spokesperson for the junta told Nikkei Asia on Wednesday. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will also attend, as will Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, but some countries have yet to announce whether their top leaders will participate.

As the bloc adheres to a policy of noninterference in members' internal affairs, the odds of tangible progress are uncertain -- especially without the presence of national leaders.

Duterte has yet to speak about the Myanmar crisis that erupted following a military coup on Feb. 1. Since then, the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained, hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested amid street protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. In March, Locsin called for the "immediate release" of Suu Kyi and said Manila was "deeply concerned" about the developments.

"The president, through Secretary Locsin, will convey the Philippines' commitment to ASEAN's collective efforts in addressing threats and challenges to peace and stability in the region," Manila's statement on Thursday said.

"Secretary Locsin will also express the Philippines' strong support to the initiative of Brunei Darussalam and the Secretary-General of ASEAN to use their good offices, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, to visit Myanmar and spearhead ASEAN's response to the crisis in Myanmar," the statement added.

On Thursday, Thailand's Prayuth also opted to skip the summit amid a surge in COVID cases in Thailand, even after a phone call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who called for the meeting.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai will represent Prayuth in the summit.

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