Myanmar is wearing out the patience of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

It has promised to abide by a five-point consensus reached in April to resolve the crisis after Myanmar’s generals seized power in a coup almost a year ago and jailed thousands, including duly elected civilian leaders led by democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Asean wanted Myanmar to restore the civilian government under Suu Kyi and end violence in the country, which spiraled out of control after the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.

But that remained a promise to this day.

Suu Kyi faces a longer jail term on numerous charges, including corruption and election fraud. Dozens have been killed in the continuing crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and genocidal attacks on minorities, like Muslim Rohingyas, were without letup as entire villages were wiped out.

Myanmar’s generals also stepped up combat operations against various secessionist rebel forces along its borders with China and Thailand, creating another humanitarian crisis as refugees swelled in these areas.

Myanmar’s internal problems are becoming the region’s headache. It is threatening to divide Asean as a group, damaging its international reputation and image as a cohesive community despite its diversity.

Early this year, Cambodia’s strongman Hun Sen traveled to Myanmar to meet with the generals, the first Southeast Asian leader to hold face-to-face talks with the junta’s leaders. Hun Sen avoided Suu Kyi, earning praises from the generals.

Cambodia is this year’s Asean chair, taking over from Brunei which only succeeded in getting a five-point consensus among Asean leaders to bring normalcy back to the country of 53 million people.

The 69-year-old Cambodian leader, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who is also the region’s longest-serving head of government, has promised a different approach to resolving the Myanmar crisis.

But his strategy could backfire and shred Asean’s reputation into pieces by trying to appease the generals and ignore Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders.

Brunei, in consultation with other Asean states, was firm. It decided not to invite the junta’s leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, to the annual Asean Leaders’ Summit last year when the generals continued to resist plans to restore normalcy in Myanmar.

Asean’s rebuff was the strongest response to the generals’ refusal to have a Brunei diplomat visit Suu Kyi. It took a lot of courage for Asean to snub Myanmar’s leader.

Asean could not really take very drastic actions, like expulsion, to discipline Myanmar because it took them years to convince the country to join the bloc.

Laos and Myanmar joined Asean in 1997 and Cambodia was the last Southeast Asian state to join in 1999. Tiny Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea have been observer countries for a long time.

Cambodia could have taken a more forceful action by elevating the pressure to the next level instead of sending a more conciliatory signal to the generals who only understand violence and repression to keep themselves in power.

Asean has an array of political and diplomatic measures to discipline its members. Economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western countries on Myanmar have been proven to do little as there are countries, like Russia and China, who continue to support the regime.

Myanmar’s location is very important to China. Beijing can build an oil pipeline from its southern provinces to the Bay of Bengal, allowing its strategic resources from the Middle East to bypass the narrow Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea.

If Myanmar falls tightly into China’s sphere of influence, just like Laos and Cambodia, China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) could also increase its presence in the Indian Ocean, challenging India’s long dominance of the sea.

There are speculations Cambodia’s different approach to Myanmar’s crisis was dictated by China’s interests in the region. Cambodia has been doing a lot of service to Beijing, one of the biggest sources of official development assistance and investments under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Last year, it dismantled a US facility along its southern province and opened opportunities for China to secure a naval base in the Gulf of Thailand and into the South China Sea.

China’s checkbook diplomacy was making it difficult for the United States to convince Asean to fall behind its Indo-Pacific political and economic strategy.

Asean wanted to keep the driver’s seat in charting its own direction in the 21st century but the intense rivalry between the US and China could also divide the region along political and economic lines.

For Asean, Myanmar is an important piece in the political jigsaw puzzle. If it falls apart, it could cast doubts on Asean centrality, solidarity and cohesiveness.

If Cambodia is acting on China’s interests, Hun Sen’s different approach to resolve Myanmar’s crisis could create a bigger problem for the region, threatening Asean’s own relevance and existence.

There is deep-seated distrust among countries in the region. For instance Cambodia had traded artillery fire with Thailand along its borders. Thailand is overprotective of its borders with Myanmar and has some problems at its southern border with Malaysia.

The Philippines and Malaysia have unresolved issues in Sabah. Indonesia and Malaysia also have border disputes and Singapore and Malaysia also have border problems. The South China Sea is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Asean has been keeping these intra-regional disputes under control for more than half a century. The demise of Asean could create a more dangerous world, exacerbated by the intense rivalry of the United States and China, not only in the region, but in the world.

Cambodia must think about Asean’s interests. It must think twice if it is ready to play along with Myanmar’s generals. It is in the best interest of the region to keep the pressure on the generals and make them realize there are certain rules to follow. Unfortunately, Cambodia has shelved the foreign ministers retreat set for next week due to poor attendance.

The generals have not honored the commitments they had made in agreeing to the five-point consensus in April. It is the only way to bring back normalcy to Myanmar.