ASEAN chair Indonesia has stressed the importance of the regional bloc's unity in remaining credible, as its foreign ministers started talks expected to touch on the thorny issue of engaging Myanmar's ostracised ruling generals.
Tuesday's meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta comes as doubts grow over ASEAN's effectiveness, with some disagreement over how to approach a bloody conflict in Myanmar and the junta's failure to implement an agreed ASEAN peace plan.
Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi made no direct mention of Myanmar in her opening remarks at Tuesday's plenary session, but said ASEAN "can only matter if it has credibility".
"So we have no choice but to show that ASEAN can navigate the regional and global dynamics and continue to instil the paradigm of collaboration," she said.
"We can only achieve this if we maintain ASEAN unity and centrality."
Myanmar has been gripped by fighting since the military seized power in early 2021 before unleashing a fierce crackdown on pro-democracy opponents, which saw the formation of an armed resistance movement and an intensification of conflict.
ASEAN has barred the junta from its high-level meetings for not honouring its commitment to a "five-point consensus" agreed two years ago, which includes ending hostilities.
Indonesia has been trying to initiate a peace process behind the scenes by engaging key stakeholders, but those efforts were dealt a blow last month when Thailand called its own meeting to discuss re-engaging with the generals, a move widely criticised as undermining Jakarta's work.
Foreign ministers of key ASEAN members stayed away, however, with only those of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos attending and some countries sending junior representation.
Sources familiar with Indonesia's peace effort say it is being complicated by pre-conditions made by all sides to start even infor mal talks.
Retno last week said any "zero-sum approach" would mean durable peace "will never be achieved".
Human rights groups and some United Nations experts have accused Myanmar's military of committing widespread atrocities against civilians. It says it is fighting "terrorists".
The U.N. human rights chief, Volker Turk, recently urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the escalating violence to the International Criminal Court, and for countries to stop supplying weapons to the junta.
Tuesday's meetings come ahead of the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum later this week, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both slated to attend.
China on Tuesday confirmed its foreign minister Qin Gang would not attend due to health reasons. It said top diplomat Wang Yi would join instead, confirming a Reuters report citing sources familiar with the matter.