Indonesian Foreign Minister: Beijing’s Help ‘Crucial’ in Supporting ASEAN Efforts on Myanmar

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesian Foreign Minister: Beijing’s Help ‘Crucial’ in Supporting ASEAN Efforts on Myanmar A protester against Myanmar’s junta holds a placard criticizing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Mandalay, Myanmar, June 5, 2021.

China’s backing is crucial to ASEAN’s efforts to foster a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Myanmar, Jakarta’s top diplomat said Monday.

Beijing can help the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to follow through on a five-point consensus that member-states reached at a special summit in late April, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting in China between top envoys from across ASEAN and their Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

“China’s support for ASEAN to follow up on the five-point consensus will be highly appreciated, because this will contribute to efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis,” Retno said of her bilateral talks with Wang in Chongqing, southwestern China.

“We also discussed the importance for the political crisis in Myanmar to be resolved immediately and China’s support for ASEAN’s effort will be crucial.”

This was the first in-person meeting between foreign ministers from ASEAN and China in more than a year. Wunna Maung Lwin, the foreign minister appointed by the Burmese junta, also attended the talks, according to The Global New Light of Myanmar, a state-owned publication.

Analysts expected ASEAN ministers and Beijing to discuss the political crisis in Myanmar, but neither Marsudi nor Singapore’s foreign minister gave details about China’s response.

The Chinese foreign ministry merely said that Beijing backed ASEAN’s non-interference principle and was talking to all stakeholders in Myanmar.

“We support joint efforts to explore effective means to ease the situation and resolve issues within the ASEAN framework,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press conference on Monday.

“China will maintain close communication with ASEAN and support its mediation efforts, while reaching out to all parties in Myanmar in its own way, so as to secure an early ‘soft landing’ for the situation in Myanmar.”

Notably, in a Facebook post on Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Naypyidaw referred to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing as “The Leader of Myanmar,” months after Beijing had congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party for winning national elections held last November.

After toppling the NLD government in a coup on Feb. 1, Myanmar’s junta jailed Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders. In addition, more than 800 people – mostly anti-coup protesters – have been killed by the Burmese military and police in post-coup violence.

On April 24, ASEAN member-states settled on the five-point consensus during a special summit in Jakarta. Min Aung Hlaing attended the meeting and endorsed the consensus. Its points included the appointment of a special envoy from the regional bloc to Myanmar, and a call for an immediate end to the violence.

But days after the summit, the junta said it would not implement the ASEAN consensus unless there was “stability” in the country.

Developments on ASEAN consensus ‘painfully slow’

On its side, ASEAN has not done any better on the consensus.

More than six weeks after the Jakarta meeting, the bloc has not named an envoy, although two emissaries from ASEAN met with the Myanmar junta chief late last week and gave him the names of prospective candidates for a special ASEAN envoy. 

It was not immediately known what Min Aung Hlaing had to say about the topic.

Some observers had said that China’s Wang would assist ASEAN foreign ministers in agreeing on an envoy at the meeting in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of ASEAN members Malaysia and Singapore on Monday openly expressed their frustration at the bloc’s inaction to date on Myanmar.

Malaysia’s top diplomat, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the consensus was important to help Myanmar toward normalcy.

“However, we must admit that developments on the consensus is painfully slow. The international community is awaiting ASEAN’s further action,” he said on Twitter, as his deputy attended the Chongqing meeting because Hishammuddin was in COVID-19 quarantine.

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, echoed these sentiments.

“To be honest with you, we are disappointed at the slow – very, very slow progress. Unfortunately, we know that there are still civilians who have been hurt or killed,” he told Singapore reporters in a call from Chongqing, according to Channel News Asia.

“There has been no release of political detainees, there has been no real sign of meaningful political dialogue and negotiation. So we’ll have to watch this space.”

On Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Myanmar said that Min Aung Hlaing had reportedly told the Chinese ambassador that he was willing to work with ASEAN on implementing the consensus. It was not known whether they spoke about an ASEAN envoy.

It is difficult to assess how much ASEAN has acted upon the consensus because there was no clear timeline for implementing it, said Dinna Prapto Raharja, an international relations expert at Synergy Policies in Jakarta.

“Even among ASEAN members, their views are not unanimous about Myanmar,” Dinna told BenarNews.

She expressed doubt that ASEAN would be able to move quickly to facilitate dialogue in Myanmar.

“They seem to conveniently dwell on procedures.”

South China Sea issue raised at meeting

ASEAN foreign ministers and Wang Yi also discussed the contentious South China Sea issue.

Malaysia, for its part, conveyed Kuala Lumpur’s stand on the “intrusion” of 16 Chinese military planes into its maritime airspace over disputed South China Sea waters near Borneo Island last week, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin said.

“Malaysia objects to the presence of foreign military assets contrary to freedom of navigation and overflight/air crossing under international law, as well as without the prior approval of the Malaysian Government,” the minister said on Twitter.

“On the South China Sea, Malaysia will ensure our maritime zones are safe for peace to prosper. As CoC negotiations continue, the presence of military assets has potential to increase tension, which in turn may result in miscalculation,” he said about negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Discussions on the code of conduct were halted last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Indonesia’s Retno called on ASEAN and China to immediately resume negotiations on the CoC. She described the progress as “very slow,” and offered to host the talks in the near future.

“I emphasize that our ability to manage the South China Sea will be a test for ASEAN-China relations,” Retno said, while calling on all parties to exercise restraint in the disputed waterway.

“I reiterate that our ability to manage the South China Sea will strengthen our equal, mutually beneficial and indispensable partnership for global peace and stability. And everything must be done in accordance with UNCLOS 1982,” she said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea region as its own while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have their own territorial claims.

While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to territorial disputes over the South China Sea, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the maritime region that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Indonesia has had several stand-offs with China over allegations that Chinese fishing boats, escorted by China Coast Guard ships, operated in its EEZ off the Natuna Islands.

Tria Dianti contributed to this report from Jakarta.


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