BEIJING - The crisis in Myanmar was high on the agenda at a meeting between the foreign ministers of Asean and China in the south-western Chinese city of Chongqing on Monday (June 7), with at least three ministers voicing their concern at the lack of progress in the peace process.
In the first in-person meeting for the grouping since the pandemic began, the foreign ministers of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia via a proxy expressed disappointment that Myanmar had not kept to the “five-point consensus” agreed by Asean leaders at a special summit in April with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing. Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin was present at Monday's meeting.
Other issues tackled in the meeting, which was part of the 30th anniversary of Asean-China Dialogue Relations, included the reopening of borders, even as several South-east Asian nations deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections, and the tensions in the South China Sea.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the ministers highlighted the “very effective” cooperation between Asean and China in battling Covid-19, pointing to China’s provision of essential medical supplies and support for vaccination across the region.
“The fact that we were able to help each other at the point in need built confidence and bodes well for the future,” he told the Singapore media after the meeting. “Clearly now for the next few months of Covid-19, we’re looking (to) carefully, deliberately, reopen safely, assuming the situation stays under control.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called for more vaccine cooperation with China, especially now that both the Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs have been added to the World Health Organisation’s emergency-use list.
“Beyond the issue of vaccines, the Asean-China partnership in building health resilience regionally is also important,” she said.
In a lengthy statement released close to midnight, China’s Foreign Ministry said the dialogue platform showed that even though neighbours might sometimes have friction, they can “transform their contradictions into cooperation” for regional peace and stability.
“We must jointly maintain stability in the South China Sea and avoid unilateral actions that may intensify conflicts,” the statement said, calling for a speedy completion of a Code of Conduct in the waterway.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan said trade and sustainable development were also discussed.
The meeting comes as Beijing has sought to step up engagement of South-east Asia, in part in response to a hardening of the United States’ stance against it.
But this engagement is tempered by its actions in the South China Sea, such as when Chinese military aircraft entered Malaysia’s maritime zone airspace on May 31, prompting Kuala Lumpur to scramble its jets.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had said on Saturday he would raise this issue with China during the meeting, but he was unable to attend the event after he had to be placed under quarantine.
While the foreign delegations did not have to quarantine, they were made to arrive a day earlier for nucleic acid tests and kept to a designated bubble in Chongqing.
The foreign media was not allowed to attend the meeting in the south-western city to prevent potential exposure.
Dr Balakrishnan also met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the meeting, where China noted Singapore’s role in deepening Beijing’s relations with the South-east Asian grouping, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.