Singapore— China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi after talks with his Singapore counterpart, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, is also meeting the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines this week.
However, questions are being raised because he is meeting his counterparts from the four Asean nations separately, according to an article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
After meeting Dr Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Mar 31), the Chinese foreign minister is scheduled to meet his Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein on Thursday (Apr 1), and subsequently with Ms Retno Marsudi of Indonesia and Mr Teddy Locsin Jr of the Philippines on Friday (Apr 2).
The SMP article asks: “Why is China’s Wang Yi hosting four Asean ministers in Fujian but meeting them individually?”
The worsening violence in Myanmar is said to be on the agenda for all the meetings.
SCMP pointed out that these four nations have been the most outspoken in their concerns over Myanmar. It also quotes an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Song Qingrun, as saying that China intends to collaborate with the Asean on two issues: stability in the South China Seas and tackling the “internal political crisis” in Myanmar.
A press statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Wang discussed ways to continue to extend mutual support amid the pandemic, including “greater air connectivity and the safe resumption of cross-border travel”.
Dr Balakrisnan wrote that they discussed “the tragic situation in Myanmar, expressed alarm over heightened violence and “called for a de-escalation of the situation, a cessation of violence, and the commencement of constructive dialogue among all sides”.
SCMP pointed out that China’s foreign minister held his talks just before the emergency meeting of the 15-member United Nations Security Council due to be held next Wednesday.
It also mentioned Asean’s principle of non-interference in other nations, and added that decisions from the group need to be arrived at via consensus of all the member nations, which include Myanmar.
It would also be against Asean’s practices to hold “mini-lateral”meetings in the absence of the group’s chair, Brunei, which is probably why the Chinese foreign minister, as well as all the foreign ministers he met with, have been careful to point out the one-on-one nature of the meetings.
The death toll due to the violence in Myanmar surpassed 500 as of Tuesday morning (Mar 30), according to a local monitoring group. Different nations have expressed condemnation over the growing number of fatalities from the clashes due to the junta’s brutal crackdown on the growing protest. France condemned the ‘blind and deadly’ violence in Myanmar.
The United States announced that it was suspending a trade pact with Myanmar on Monday, after a weekend of bloody clashes.
Escalating tensions between the military junta and the protesters are giving rise to speculation that a civil war is brewing, the speculation fuelled by an exodus of Myanmar’s citizens fleeing to neighbouring nations.
Through talks with four Asean nations that do not share a border with Myanmar, China may be taking the lead in endeavouring to find a peaceful solution to Myanmar’s crisis without interference from regional powers, SCMP quotes an associate fellow at The Habibie Centre think tank in Jakarta, Rene Pattiradjawane, as saying.
“This will be a pressing issue to find peaceful resolutions before the situation in Myanmar gets out of control,” Mr Pattiradjawane added.
SCMP also quoted assistant professor of public policy and global affairs at Nanyang Technological University, Dylan Loh, who said that while the meetings held by Mr Wang were not official Aseann events, nevertheless they are “an important diplomatic signal, both domestically and externally, because China wants to show that it has the support, friendship and backing of many countries – this is significant as China comes under increasing diplomatic pressure from the West. It certainly does underline the diplomatic heft that China has in the region.”