China ready to ‘work with ASEAN’ to ease Myanmar coup turmoil

Laura Zhou, South China Morning Post

Posted at Feb 20 2021 11:31 PM

China has said it is willing to work closely with Asean to ease political tensions in Myanmar as pressure mounts on Beijing to condemn the military coup in its Southeast Asian neighbour.

In a call with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a peaceful and stable Myanmar was important to both China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The continued turmoil in Myanmar is not in the interests of the country and its people, nor is it in the common interests of the region. Myanmar’s military and political parties have an important responsibility towards the country’s stability and development,” Wang said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

“We hope that all parties in Myanmar will act in the fundamental and long-term interests of the country and nation, resolve the problems that arise in a peaceful manner under the constitutional and legal framework, and continue the process of democratic transition in the country in an orderly manner.”

Retno, who is trying to rally Asean members to respond as one to the political crisis in Myanmar, said Indonesia supported Asean’s non-interference principle but would be willing to engage in “constructive contacts” with Myanmar to end the turmoil and continue the democratic transition in the country.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin agreed earlier to set up a special meeting of Asean foreign ministers to address the political crisis, a proposal that has been endorsed by Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the bloc’s chairman this year.

In an earlier call with Bruneian Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Wang said Beijing supported Asean’s desire to play a constructive role in the Myanmar issue.

China has been cautious in its public response to the February 1 coup, in which the military overthrew de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

The coup triggered widespread protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement against the junta. On Friday, rights groups said a 20-year grocery store worker died after being shot in the head last week as police tried to disperse protesters in the capital Naypyidaw.

While the international community rushed to condemn the coup, Beijing has been largely silent, citing its policy of non-interference.

It referred to the military takeover as a “cabinet reshuffle” and joined Russia to block a joint statement by the United Nations Security Council to condemn the coup.

Earlier this week, Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai said Beijing had no “prior knowledge” of the coup and rejected claims that China was aiding the military.

Xu Liping, from the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Wang Yi pointed out common ground in the positions of China and Asean.

“China’s stand is very clear – we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar, which is a friendly neighbour. China is also willing to play a constructive role through some existing channels,” Xu said.
“What China wants is a solution with Asean playing a central role. This is a practical choice.”

“Myanmar is, after all, an Asean member,” he said, adding that Beijing’s reach should not be overestimated.

On Thursday, Britain and Canada joined the US in announcing sanctions on military officials in Myanmar for human rights violations.

The US State Department said the US would be closely working with its allies and partners to press the military “to reverse its actions”.