The noise surrounding Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit last week to Myanmar to meet with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has been so deafening that any nuance is a whisper. Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, called it “a slap in the face of the eight other ASEAN member states,” an apparent claim that the rest of the bloc was somehow united last year and that they opposed his visit. Perhaps this was the reason why the upcoming ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, due to take place in Siem Reap next week, was called off on Thursday. Some allege other regional governments refused to travel in protest over Hun Sen’s Naypyidaw sojourn. The first real spike in Omicron infections in Cambodia is an alternative reason.
Another narrative now making the rounds contends that disinviting Hlaing from last October’s ASEAN Summit was an actual policy of courage and sustainability, and, indeed, something that gave ASEAN more leverage over the junta. That’s far from evident. And, as a corollary, this narrative holds that Hun Sen’s visit last week scuppered the bloc’s apparently tough-nosed consensus, whereas it’s probable that most regional states just want the Myanmar crisis off the agenda, regardless of the outcome.