China-ASEAN Summit Begins Without Myanmar Representative | ASEAN News
China meets leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for an annual summit amid reports that member states have rejected Beijing’s request to include the top general of the Myanmar.
The virtual summit, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, began on Monday without a representative from Myanmar, according to Reuters news agency.
This is the second time in a month that ASEAN has excluded Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing from a regional summit.
The general toppled the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on February 1 and oversaw a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters that plunged Myanmar into civil war.
The 10-member ASEAN spearheaded diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, reaching a deal with Min Aung Hlaing in April that included talks with deposed and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But the military did not follow through on the deal and ASEAN retaliated by excluding Min Aung Hlaing from its summits.
The move is unprecedented for a group of countries that emphasize non-interference in internal affairs and have their own shoddy democratic record.
According to Reuters, it was Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei that rejected China’s bid to include Min Aung Hlaing at the China-ASEAN summit on Monday. An Indonesian diplomat told the news agency that his position was that only a “non-political” figure should represent Myanmar at ASEAN summits.
While Beijing appears to have accepted the move, pushing for the general’s inclusion has stirred the geopolitical pot in the region.
Josh Kurlantzick, Southeast Asia researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he did not view China’s lobbying for the inclusion of Min Aung Hlaing at Monday’s summit as a sign that Beijing was moving closer to a military regime in Myanmar.
He called Myanmar’s military takeover “largely a disaster for Beijing.”
“I think China is very unhappy with the situation in Myanmar and is keen to work with ASEAN to try to bring Myanmar back to something near, eventually, pre-coup status, which was much better for China, ”he said.
The coup and the internal conflict that followed created instability that threatened Chinese business interests, sparked a wave of COVID-19 cases, and rekindled old civil wars in border regions.
Aaron Connelly, a Southeast Asia researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that China acquiesced in ASEAN’s refusal to allow Min Aung Hlaing is revealing.
“If the international legitimacy of the junta was a priority for Beijing, I don’t think we would see them accept this decision so easily,” he said.
Connelly noted that China has also agreed to a deal allowing Kyaw Moe Tun to continue as Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, despite his loyalty to the overthrown government and his accusation of treason by the military.
“The cold between Min Aung Hlaing and the Chinese leadership runs deep, and this has not changed as quickly as some expected – although the two are otherwise taking a transactional approach to diplomacy,” he said. -he adds.
Myanmar’s anti-military figures, however, were not impressed by China’s move, including Dr Sasa, spokesperson for the Government of National Unity (NUG). NUG members were nominated by lawmakers elected in the 2020 election, which the NLD won by an overwhelming majority, but the military refused to recognize.
Sasa said it was “so wrong” for China to invite Min Aung Hlaing to the summit.
“The military junta in Myanmar has no support from the ASEAN people and has nothing good to offer China or ASEAN other than this terrible crisis and chaos,” he said.
In contrast, Sasa said the people of Myanmar can bring “peace, prosperity and stability” to the region. “This is the choice between the people of Myanmar and the genocidal military junta in Myanmar,” he said.
Activist and protest leader Thinzar Shunlei Yi said that China’s lobbying for Min Aung Hlaing “makes it clear” that the regional superpower “wants to influence ASEAN and the region in terms of politics, security or economy ”. She praised ASEAN’s “historic decision” to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from last month’s summit and said other countries should learn from the decision rather than undermine it.
“China must respect [the] ASEAN summit and listen to the voices of the Burmese people, ”she said.
The UK, for its part, followed ASEAN’s lead for the next face-to-face meeting between the G7 and ASEAN foreign ministers in London in December. The Burmese military will not be allowed to attend in person, with only a “non-political representative” allowed by video.
Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker and chair of the ASEAN human rights parliamentarians, criticized China’s “attempt to win over” ASEAN in a statement. He accused the Burmese military of trying to “receive legitimacy through China, a country which noticeably lacks respect for human rights” and urged ASEAN states to avoid becoming “the puppets of China ”.
But Santiago said the move presented ASEAN with both a “significant challenge and an opportunity.”
“Our leaders must stay the course and show the world a radically new and tougher approach to Myanmar,” he said, calling for the regime’s ban on all ASEAN-associated meetings, the ban on generals from traveling to the region, and for ASEAN to open a formal dialogue with NUG.
Santiago also told Al Jazeera that he hoped ASEAN leaders would raise the issue of “the constant encroachment by Chinese ships” in Southeast Asian waters. He accused China of sending “soldiers pretending to be fishermen”. A recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies claimed that a Chinese maritime militia was patrolling the South China Sea, harassing other ships and underpinning China’s controversial land claims. The question was a particular flashpoint for the Philippines and Malaysia.
Connelly and Kurlantzick also expect South China Sea issues to remain a priority for China in Southeast Asia. They said Beijing would seek to use its political influence over Cambodia, the next ASEAN president, to thwart any criticism of its increasingly aggressive approach.
Connelly said Cambodia may still have “some leeway” over the Myanmar crisis, but China would have “firmer views” on how Cambodia is handling disputes in the South China Sea.
Kurlantzick said China hopes to use Cambodia to “sow discord within ASEAN” on the issue.
“Given Cambodia’s proximity to China, I think Beijing will use Cambodia [again] to stop any ASEAN consensus on the South China Sea, ”he said. Cambodia previously blocked an ASEAN consensus in 2016, calling on China to abide by an international decision that sided with the Philippines in a territorial dispute with China.
Kurlantzick said China will also seek to strengthen its ties with ASEAN and present itself as a more reliable economic partner than the United States.
“I think China also clearly wants to improve its strategic ties with ASEAN, into a comprehensive strategic partnership, and also wants to advertise widely that, unlike the United States, China is closely involved in the vast economic integration currently underway in Southeast Asia, ”he said. .