State coun­sel­lor to head ASEAN del­e­ga­tion

With Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw skip­ping the ASEAN sum­mit in Laos, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take the reins in a move an­a­lysts say un­der­scores her role as the coun­try’s de facto leader.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lin­aung@mm­times.com

THE 28th ASEAN Sum­mit and re­lated meet­ings be­gin to­day in Vientiane, Laos, with a host of re­gional lead­ers at­tend­ing the events, in­clud­ing a Myan­mar del­e­ga­tion led by State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

One telling ab­sence will be that of Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw, the tit­u­lar figurehead of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s govern­ment. An of­fi­cer with the Laos for­eign min­istry’s in­for­ma­tion depart­ment said that with the pres­i­dent not at­tend­ing, Lao­tian of­fi­cials had in­vited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her ca­pac­ity as state coun­sel­lor and not as for­eign min­is­ter, a ti­tle she also holds.

An­a­lysts said the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led del­e­ga­tion re­flected the re­gional bloc’s recog­ni­tion that she is Myan­mar’s de facto leader, over­com­ing a con­sti­tu­tional ban on her as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency to rep­re­sent the na­tion at home and abroad.

Myan­mar’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs is­sued a state­ment yes­ter­day say­ing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in­tended to dis­cuss im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ASEAN Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, its “Vi­sion 2025” agenda and other com­mu­nity-build­ing plans at this week’s sum­mit.

“The state coun­sel­lor will be dis­cussing the ex­ter­nal re­la­tions of ASEAN, the com­mon re­gional and international prob­lems as well as ASEAN’s fu­ture vi­sion dur­ing the sum­mit pe­riod,” the state­ment said.

It made no spe­cific men­tion of the South China Sea, where ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes be­tween China and some ASEAN mem­ber states have plagued per­cep­tions of the re­gional bloc’s unity in re­cent years.

The Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs did not re­spond to in­quiries from The Myan­mar Times about why U Htin Kyaw is not at­tend­ing this week’s gath­er­ing in Laos.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a Thai an­a­lyst of ASEAN af­fairs, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s at­ten­dance as state coun­sel­lor was log­i­cal given her high rank­ing within the Na­tional League for Democ­racy govern­ment.

“She can do a good job as state coun­sel­lor as she knows ASEAN af­fairs and has learned quickly, and she has another former UN am­bas­sador to help her at the min­is­te­rial level,” said Mr Kavi, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to U Kyaw Tint Swe, Myan­mar’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN from 2001 to 2010, who now serves as min­is­ter for the Of­fice of the State Coun­sel­lor.

U Than Soe Naing, a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to Laos was in­dica­tive of a sim­ple re­al­ity: that she can speak with re­gional coun­ter­parts from a po­si­tion of au­thor­ity that U Htin Kyaw does not hold.

He added that in prac­ti­cal terms, the pres­ence of two lead­ers – one ef­fec­tively cer­e­mo­nial, the other call­ing the shots – for one coun­try might lead to con­fu­sion over pro­to­col.

“At the pre­vi­ous Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, al­though Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw is the pres­i­dent of the coun­try, he only did what he should and let Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lead all things ... So I fig­ure, this is the same con­di­tions with ASEAN as was for Pan­g­long,” said U Than Soe Naing, re­fer­ring to a peace con­fer­ence that con­cluded over the week­end.

The ASEAN Sum­mit will be the high­est-pro­file mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rum that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has at­tended since her govern­ment took power at the end of March. She will also head­line the Myan­mar del­e­ga­tion at a ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly later this month, and is set to visit US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on a trip to Wash­ing­ton from Septem­ber 14 to 15. Mr Obama will also be in Vientiane this week.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip abroad to a ma­jor power came last month, when she vis­ited China and met with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Shoon Naing

Photo: AFP

Hon­our guards wait at Wat­tay International Air­port in Vientiane yes­ter­day to greet for­eign heads of state ar­riv­ing for the 28th As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Sum­mit to be held Septem­ber 6-8.

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