Philippines steps in as Asean 2026 chair after troubled Myanmar opts out

No official explanation was given regarding why Myanmar is skipping its turn, but there were talks that it would defer its scheduled chairmanship.

Jean Mangaluz

Jean Mangaluz

Philippine Daily Inquirer


President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and first lady Liza Araneta- Marcos are welcomed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo and first lady Iriana Widodo to the Asean Summit in Jakarta on Tuesday. PHOTO: AFP/PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

September 6, 2023

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Philippines has accepted the role as chair and summit host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2026, as Myanmar, facing domestic problems, has opted to skip its turn.

“It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take the helm and chair [the] Asean in 2026,” President Marcos told his fellow leaders during the 43rd Asean Summit here in the Indonesian capital.

Manila was originally scheduled to be the Asean chair and host in 2027.

The chairmanship of the 10-member bloc, which involves organizing duties for all Asean meetings, is rotated among member economies in alphabetical order. The Philippines last hosted the Asean Summit in 2017, its 50th anniversary.

No official explanation was given regarding why Myanmar is skipping its turn but there were talks ahead of this year’s summit that it would defer its scheduled chairmanship.

Myanmar’s junta, which staged a 2021 coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, has been barred from Asean’s high-level meetings since last year.

Myanmar crisis
The Asean Summit is the highest policy-making body in the regional grouping, held twice every year. Indonesia serves as chair for 2023, with Laos set to take over next year.

But the bloc has long been criticized as a toothless talking shop and divided members are still struggling to find a united voice on the yearslong Myanmar crisis.

Indonesia has pushed for Myanmar’s junta to enforce a five-point plan agreed two years ago to end the violence and restart negotiations. But those efforts have been fruitless, as the junta ignores international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents.

Addressing the other Asean leaders, Mr. Marcos pledged that the Philippines would strive to strengthen the Asean community.

“We will fortify the foundations of our community-building and navigate Asean as it embarks on a new chapter,” he said.

“The continued effectiveness of our community-building efforts rests on a clear assessment of our strengths. The Philippines will continue to champion for change that will strengthen our institutions, improve our decision-making, and uphold Asean centrality,” the President added.

During his intervention, Mr. Marcos emphasized that the people should always be at the heart of the regional grouping’s community-building, highlighting the need to empower the voiceless.

“We must continue to prepare our people, especially the marginalized and the vulnerable, such as the women and the persons with disabilities, in business, for the digital future. The citizens of Asean should reskill and upskill to maintain their leading roles in our economies,” he said.

The Philippine leader also said he would move to advance his country’s interests during the three-day summit.

Mr. Marcos was expected to meet with leaders from Asean and its dialogue partners.

The other Asean member states are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. A prospective 11th member, Timor-Leste, is under observer status.

The bloc’s dialogue partners are Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

Opening Tuesday’s summit, Indonesian President Joko Widodo stressed the importance of unity amid challenges confronting the bloc.

“Distinguished Asean members, we are all aware of the magnitude of current global challenges, and the main key to addressing them is Asean’s unity and centrality. Asean’s objective is clear to become an epicentrum of growth,” he said during his opening speech.

Among the issues expected to be discussed at the summit are persistent tensions in the South China Sea, with neighboring China expanding its broad claims in the disputed waters, as well as the Myanmar crisis.

“Asean must be able to work harder, become more solid, bolder, and more agile,” Widodo said.

Steering a ship
He likened Asean nations to a ship responsible for steering its population through a storm.

“Asean, as a large ship, also has a major responsibility toward the hundreds of millions of people who are sailing together on it,” he said.

“And despite having to sail through a storm, we as Asean leaders must ensure that this ship can continue to sail and that we have to be captains of our own ship to achieve peace, to achieve stability, to achieve prosperity,” said Widodo.

“We have to be captains of our own ship to achieve peace, to achieve prosperity together,” he said.

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