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Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi commended a recent visit by Cambodian leader Hun Sen to Myanmar, which was the first by a foreign leader since the military coup in February.
In a phone call with his counterpart Prak Sokhonn on Tuesday, Hayashi said he remained concerned about violence in Myanmar, and welcomed Cambodia’s positive efforts to resolve the situation, according to an emailed statement from the Foreign Ministry. Hun Sen’s trip resulted in progress toward a ceasefire with ethnic minority groups and enabling humanitarian support, Hayashi added.
While Japan has called on the junta to stop the violence and restore democracy, it wants to remain close to Myanmar as part of a strategy of countering China’s influence there and to also protect significant investments in industries ranging from consumer goods to banking. Military ties between Japan and Myanmar have remained strong.
Japan’s support of Cambodia’s growing engagement with the junta since it assumed the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signals that some U.S. allies were uneasy with shutting out Myanmar for fear this would draw the country closer to China.
Hun Sen’s two-day visit drew widespread criticism that it would legitimize the rule of the junta, which has been engaged in intensifying battles with armed groups. The strongman, who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years after a bloody civil war, has said his visit aimed to help put an end to the violence in Myanmar.
Hun Sen didn’t get to meet deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been so far sentenced to jail for six years for inciting dissent against the military and other associated charges with more court verdicts expected. Instead, he shared his win-win policy” on achieving peace with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing who agreed to allow a special ASEAN envoy to visit the country, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said.
Cambodia needs to press for a five-point consensus agreed between Myanmar and ASEAN last year as well as a meaningful” visit with the special envoy to meet all parties concerned, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar said in a written response to a question about the visit.
Hun Sen has insisted that Myanmar should attend all ASEAN meetings, a reversal from an earlier stance by the bloc to deny coup leader Min Aung Hlaing from attending top-level discussions, including a big-ticket summit last year that included China and the United States.
While Hun Sen has brushed aside suggestions from some ASEAN countries on how to handle Myanmar, he now appears to be looking for some consensus. After his visit to Myanmar, Hun Sen said ASEAN members should create a diplomatic troika consisting of Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia to follow through with the ceasefire in Myanmar, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Hun Sen added that Japan should step in and join the Friends of Myanmar” initiative organized by the previous ASEAN Chair Brunei in the light of supporting his trip to work with the junta leaders. Japan intends to provide strong support to Cambodia to make it successful as the chair of ASEAN,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.