Foreign ministers from Southeast Asia gathered in Jakarta on Friday for talks on regional issues. The Western media has focused on two main topics: pressuring the Myanmar government to end the bloodshed and engage with all sides, and taking a tougher stance against China in the South China Sea dispute.
However, combining these two issues is misleading. Such a combination underscores a strategic decision by the US to contain China globally, which hinders the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from effectively addressing the first issue and could lead to conflicts within ASEAN and between ASEAN and China.
The top priority for ASEAN is to promote peace, reconciliation, and stability in Myanmar as it is crucial for the unity of ASEAN and its influence in the global and Asian context. ASEAN has agreed upon five points in this regard. The most critical issue now is to consolidate this consensus, uphold ASEAN’s position, prevent interference and intervention from external forces, and advance dialogue involving all relevant stakeholders in accordance with ASEAN’s own determined approach.
According to various sources, the involvement of external forces in Myanmar’s affairs has become a significant factor hindering the country’s reconciliation and exacerbating divisions among different factions.
How should the development of Myanmar be pursued? This is a decision that must be made by the people of Myanmar alone, not by external forces. It has been repeatedly proven that forcing Myanmar to follow the “plans” of certain external powers is simply not conducive to achieving reconciliation. Moreover, Western-led sanctions only bring suffering to the ordinary people of Myanmar.
China has always been willing to assist ASEAN in promoting the peace process in Myanmar. We have provided meeting venues for relevant negotiations and continued to communicate with all parties in Myanmar. China will never interfere in Myanmar’s domestic politics but instead aims to help the Myanmar people sit down and negotiate for reconciliation.
China would never act in the manner of certain large countries outside the region, which pretend to promote peace on the surface, but engage in divisive measures, provoke conflicts, and aggravate tensions.
China is a neighbor of Myanmar, not an outsider. China is also a victim of the current turmoil in Myanmar, with Chinese citizens repeatedly being kidnapped by Myanmar criminal gangs. The peaceful development of Myanmar is beneficial to ASEAN and also to China.
The South China Sea issue is also being hyped as the most important challenge facing ASEAN, but in reality this is actually effort to interfere with and undermine ASEAN’s most important internal unity issue.
The South China Sea issue is not a top priority. As the world’s most important shipping route, the South China Sea has never experienced any blockage incidents. Even for countries that claim the South China Sea issue is the main problem for ASEAN and send warships to the South China Sea to show off their strength, they cannot provide any evidence that there is any real problem with the South China Sea route.
China has always been committed to the peace and stability of the South China Sea and has a basic common position with ASEAN, which is to promote long-term stability in the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations. The road must be taken step by step. Currently, China and ASEAN are negotiating the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
ASEAN is clear-minded. Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday said ASEAN cannot become a proxy for other countries as US-China tensions rise over issues in the Asia-Pacific.
The attempt to portray China and ASEAN as conflicting on the South China Sea issue is essentially an attempt to force ASEAN countries to choose sides and align with the US’ global strategy against China, which ASEAN cannot accept. The relationship between China and ASEAN is currently at a crucial stage of development. ASEAN has become China’s largest trading partner for two consecutive years, a result of shared interests and mutual benefits, and holds a promising future.
According to IMF data, the economies of Asia and the Pacific are expected to contribute approximately 70 percent of global growth in 2023. Disrupting or damaging the relationship between China and ASEAN would be akin to detonating a bomb in the engine of the world economy. Therefore, it is crucial for ASEAN and China to collaborate in order to promote stability in Myanmar, expedite Myanmar’s integration into the process of common development, and strengthen ASEAN’s influence in global and Asian politics and economics. This should be the foremost priority for ASEAN.
Source : Global Times