Thailand’s new PM to skip ASEAN meet as bloc readies to discuss Myanmar and South China Sea

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin meets with street food vendors in Bangkok (EPA)
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin meets with street food vendors in Bangkok (EPA)

Thailand's new prime minister Srettha Thavisin will skip the meeting of Asian leaders in Indonesia this week reportedly due to his tight schedule.

The Association for Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit will meet in Jakarta from 5-7 September, where leaders of the Asian countries led by host president Joko Widodo will discuss Myanmar, a code of conduct for the South China Sea, the region's economy, transnational crime among other issues.

Mr Srettha won a parliamentary vote to become prime minister last month and his cabinet was endorsed by the king on Saturday.

The prime minister and his cabinet are due to take an oath before an audience with King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Tuesday and will then deliver a policy address in parliament.

Permanent secretary Sarun Charoensuwan will represent Thailand at the summit, two officials told Reuters, without specifying why the prime minister was not attending.

Ahead of the summit, Cambodian prime minister Hun Manet said the South Asian country wants to enable constructive dialogue on the Myanmar conflict – one of the crucial issues for the bloc.

Myanmar is a member of Asean though its military rulers have been excluded from top bloc meetings since they ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, triggering a violent conflict.

The bloc has agreed on a peace plan, known as its five-point consensus, that calls for an end to violence and dialogue among all parties but the generals have paid little more than lip service to it.

The Cambodian prime minister said Asean must prevent the use of force against a sovereign state, adding that geopolitical rivalries were tightening.

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi on Monday said as mandated by leaders "we would conduct a comprehensive review" of the five-point plan implementation.

“Asean can only steam forward in full power if we can ensure a peaceful and lasting solution in Myanmar," she said.

The bloc for decades operated under the principle of not interfering in each other's internal affairs and reaching agreement by consensus, but that has left it struggling to help resolve problems like Myanmar, unable to press the generals beyond barring them from its high-level meetings.

Indonesia, which has urged unity amid growing scepticism of the bloc's credibility, has been conducting behind-the-scenes efforts to find a solution to Myanmar's turmoil but has little to show for its effort.

Chinese premier Li Qiang was set to join the meetings, including the 18-member East Asia Summit. There, he would meet US vice president Kamala Harris, who will fly in lieu of president Joe Biden. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to participate as well.

(With agency inputs)