ANALYSIS – China seeks to benefit from ASEAN leaders meeting

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JAKARTA, Indonesia

International observers said behind the coming ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on the Myanmar crisis lies China’s interests.

They believe that China makes use of the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to de-escalate conflict in Myanmar.

A geopolitical observer at the Malaysian University of Technology, Azmi Hassan, said although China was not directly involved in pushing the talks, Foreign Minister Wang Yi had asked ASEAN to provide a fair solution to the crisis.

“China has an important role in this meeting because China’s influence on Myanmar is greater than the United Nations. China is able to put pressure on the military regime of Myanmar if the outcome of the meeting is in accordance with China’s interests,” Hassan told Anadolu Agency on Friday.

According to Hassan, China wants ongoing violence in Myanmar to be resolved immediately.

Therefore, China encouraged ASEAN leaders to hold the talks because if the situation in Myanmar continues to worsen, it will disrupt China’s geopolitics in the international community.

The whole situation, he continued, will put China’s image in a wrong way
as the international community will view China as a supporter of the military regime of Myanmar.

“Other countries will blame Beijing if the violence in Myanmar continues to escalate,” Hassan explained.

Earlier this month, Chinese FM Wang Yi met with his ASEAN counterparts, including Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi, Malaysian FM Hishamuddin Hussein, Singapore FM Vivian Balakhrisnan and Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Fujian, China.

During the meeting, Wang expressed his support to ASEAN’s top diplomats to resolve the crisis, specifically Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s initiative by pushing the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting.

“Like Indonesia, China also has the same view regarding the importance of ending the use of force and violence, which makes the people of Myanmar suffer even more,” said Retno Marsudi after the meeting on April 2.

According to Ramdhan Muhaimin, an observer of international relations from Al-Azhar University Indonesia, China does not want to lose good relations with ASEAN both bilaterally and multilaterally over the Myanmar crisis.

Moreover, China wants to strengthen its influence in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

“ASEAN is the only key actor in Southeast Asia that can work well with China,” said Muhaimin on Friday.

Meanwhile, China believes that if the United States or the European countries impose sanctions on Myanmar, it would only weaken Myanmar, its alliance in the Southeast Asia region.

“China still needs Myanmar and the legitimacy is needed through ASEAN,” he explained.

Muhaimin, however, is concerned that this situation will put ASEAN at a ‘crossroads’, between accommodating China’s influential interests in the region, prioritizing its solidity as a regional organization, or finding effective solutions to the crisis so that regional political stability and security are maintained.

“In my opinion, ASEAN should listen to aspirations from non-junta parties in Myanmar, especially the opposition government, those who were ousted by the military regime, or pro-democracy groups,” he told Anadolu Agency.

As of July 2019, China’s cumulative investment in Myanmar accounted for over 25 percent of Myanmar’s total foreign investment, according to the Ministry of Trade of China.

Based on official data, the total imports and exports between the two countries were only $11 billion in 2004 but had reached almost $168 billion in the first 11 months of 2019.

Meanwhile, Shofwan Al Banna, an international relations observer at the University of Indonesia, said that China was pinning its hopes on ASEAN’s efforts in resolving the Myanmar crisis, specifically the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in Jakarta.

“If ASEAN shows unclear stance, maybe they will take their own steps without taking ASEAN into account,” said Al Banna, referring to big countries, including China.

He said China is still considering how to respond to the Myanmar crisis. Moreover, China does not want the problem to escalate, considering Myanmar is its largest trading partner and closest ally in the Indian Ocean.

At the same time, China also shows a lackluster willingness to help Myanmar after the latter burned several Chinese-owned garment factories, escalating tensions over China’s role in the country.

“It is true that Myanmar is China’s important ally, but this issue is more than that. Therefore, China is still pondering and waiting for things to unfold,” he added.

*Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita

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