Photo of a protest against Hun Sen's visit to Myanmar held in Kalay, Sagaing Region on January 5, 2022 (Photo: Tayzar San / Facebook)

Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar: A Perspective from Myanmar

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Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen's recent visit to Myanmar will achieve little in nudging the Myanmar military towards implementing ASEAN's five-point consensus. No meaningful solution can be attained without engaging the people of Myanmar.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent visit to Myanmar has raised many questions about the recognition and legitimacy of the Myanmar military junta, as well as whether he represented Cambodia or ASEAN.

Days before Hun Sen landed in Naypyidaw, the people of Myanmar made it very clear that they strongly opposed his visit. Protests against his visit broke out in many cities around Myanmar. To name a few, #dontsupportanotherkillingfield protests broke out in YangonDepayinMonywaSarlingyiShweboMyaingHpakant and Kalay. The people believed that Hun Sen’s hidden agenda was to recognise the military regime and use Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN to broach the Myanmar issue at the grouping’s meetings. 

A total of 195 civil society organisations in Myanmar and Cambodia called for condemnation of his visit. Myanmar social media users vented their spleens under the Cambodian Prime Minister’s Facebook page. Hundreds of comments from Myanmar users repeated the same message: ‘We don’t need Hun Sen.’

Writing in Fulcrum, a Cambodian commentator presented an opposite view. He argued that Hun Sen’s visit would ‘foster a conducive environment for dialogue with the military which would later pave the way for the implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus.’ The argument assumes that the military is willing to implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus. In reality, the military has not shown any signs of doing so. A point-by-point appraisal of the five-point consensus provides obvious examples.

  • Point 1: There shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint. 

Since ASEAN’s five-point consensus was adopted in April 2021, the junta has continued to unleash violence against civilians. At the time, the resistance was already saying that they would consider coming to talks if the junta stopped its acts of violence. However, the junta’s use of violence has escalated in the face of resistance from anti-junta forces. The junta has continued to carry out offensive attacks in the states of Chin, Sagaing, Magway, Kayin and Kayah/Karenni. The weekend after Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar, junta forces conducted offensive airstrikes on the capital of Kayah/ Karenni State. The examples above illustrate that the military is unwilling to uphold its end of the bargain to stop violence and exercise restraint. 

  • Point 2: Constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.  

The junta has not and does not show any inclination to seek the ‘dialogue’ route. Though the junta has declared a five-month ceasefire with ethnic armed organisations (EAOs), junta forces have consistently carried out offensive attacks against different EAOs in Kayin and Karenni States. More importantly, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) of elected parliamentarians and National Unity Government (NUG, the elected cabinet) are still in the ‘terrorist organisations’ list as announced by the junta in May 2021. 

  • Point 3: A special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN.

Without a cessation of violence and meaningful engagement with the NUG and a wide range of stakeholders in Myanmar, any mediation process will come to nought. Recognised by the electoral mandate, the CRPH has urged Hun Sen as ASEAN Chair to respect the aspiration and effort of the Myanmar people for democracy and called on him to cooperate with the CRPH and NUG. A press statement released by the NUG on Hun Sen’s visit also notes that in the absence of ‘agreement of all parties, Hun Sen will be the instrument of one, the illegal junta. […] The NUG also stands ready to engage with the new Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.’ 

Hun Sen’s lack of engagement with the NUG raises the question of whether ASEAN is willing to take all stakeholders into account in the dialogue process. Without engagement with the NUG, CRPH, EAOs and other relevant stakeholders in Myanmar, a conducive environment for dialogue, which Hun Sen has repeatedly called for, will never be created. 

Hun Sen’s visit is a classic example of diplomacy conducted at 30,000 feet, both literally and metaphorically. No lasting solution can be reached without engaging the Myanmar people, and eliciting their support.

  • Point 4: ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre.

Though ASEAN was prominent in providing humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the bloc’s humanitarian work in conflict-torn Rakhine State was criticised for glossing over army atrocities. Before planning a call for humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre, ASEAN should first assess how the junta reacts to refugees and aid workers. Aid workers on the ground are being harmed by the junta forces. Two staff members of Save the Children were among at least 35 people killed on 24 December by the Myanmar military. In Karenni State, junta forces opened fire at a convoy of private cars fleeing from airstrikes in Loikaw town. The junta forces are the ones perpetuating the violence against the refugees whom they are supposed to be protecting. Considering that, will ASEAN be able to make sure the junta is committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the people? Not likely.

  • Point 5: The special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

During his visit, Hun Sen did not seek to meet Aung San Suu Kyi or other leaders from the deposed National League for Democracy. Previously, the Bruneian Special Envoy had requested to meet all parties concerned. The junta did not allow it, saying that the ousted State Counsellor was facing criminal charges. 

To conclude, Hun Sen’s visit made no positive impact. Neither did the visit pave the way to implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus. More worryingly, his visit undermined the people’s wishes, an essential factor to understand Myanmar’s crisis. Hun Sen’s visit is a classic example of diplomacy conducted at 30,000 feet, both literally and metaphorically. No lasting solution can be reached without engaging the Myanmar people, and eliciting their support. The legitimacy lies in the people, not in the military, and the people’s long-haul struggle for justice should be recognised by institutions that attempt to solve the Myanmar crisis. 

2022/12