Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will attend her first ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting from Sunday (Jul 24).

Expectations are high on what she will say at the meeting in Vientiane, Laos, and some are advising her to take this moment to get acquainted with ASEAN’s processes first.

An issue that threatens to divide ASEAN is the South China Sea, which is likely to be a key discussion topic at the meeting. Myanmar is not a claimant state, but many will be keen to hear what Ms Suu Kyi has to say on the issue.

Myanmar is in a tricky position as it shares a border with China, and the powerful neighbour is the country’s largest foreign investor.

Said Tampadipa Institute’s director, Dr Khin Zaw Win: “Our relations with China have not been very warm in recent years. I think this would be a time for her not to rock the China boat too much.

“You don’t want to go out on a limb on your first debut, your first appearance. But at the same time, you can’t just stay mum and just go along with it. So it’s kind of a balancing act and I really hope her ASEAN advisers will be able to give her a good briefing.”

Political watchers also said Ms Suu Kyi needs to consider ASEAN unity when putting forward Myanmar’s position on the issue.

An ASEAN-China meeting in June ended in chaos when the grouping made a U-turn after initially releasing a strongly-worded statement that expressed “serious concerns” over developments in the disputed sea.

Myanmar’s former ambassador to China, Sein Win Aung, said: “International law is one way, another is ASEAN community law. That issue is very complicated.”

What Ms Suu Kyi can do at the meeting for now, according to observers, is to spell out her foreign policy and to reassure ASEAN members of the country’s stability and commitment as a regional player. Some even suggested that ASEAN should rope in the Nobel Laureate to add clout to the regional grouping.

“There have been some observers who are not taking a very favourable view of where ASEAN is going. Although we talk about the ASEAN community and the three pillars, there has not been that much verve or commitment – not only from Myanmar but the other countries too. So someone of her stature could in a way, if she really makes the attempt, bring ASEAN together, knit it together more closely,” said Dr Khin.

A senior official from Myanmar’s foreign ministry told Channel NewsAsia that Ms Suu Kyi is looking forward to having good meetings with her counterparts, some of whom she will be meeting for the very first time.

Ms Suu Kyi will also be keen to discuss several issues such as how Myanmar will participate in helping to build an integrated ASEAN community, how to streamline ASEAN meetings to make them more effective, and share her views on counter-terrorism. More importantly, observers are also urging Ms Suu Kyi to use this opportunity to build a closer relationship with the other ASEAN neighbours.