China wanted to invite Myanmar junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to a special ASEAN-China summit but decided not to after the regional grouping objected.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Chinese President Xi Jinping will co-chair the summit on Nov. 22, which is being held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Brunei currently holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member.
Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing was excluded from an ASEAN summit last month at the insistence of some member states including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, after he failed to honor his commitment to ASEAN to take steps to solve the political crisis resulting from his military takeover. Among other examples of noncooperation, he has refused to allow ASEAN’s envoy to meet detained ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the general’s place, ASEAN said it would accept a nonpolitical representative of Myanmar at the summit, prompting the regime to refuse to send anyone. The junta criticized ASEAN’s position and demanded that the regional grouping stick to its policy of noninterference in members’ internal affairs.
For the ASEAN-China Summit, it is believed that Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore took a firm stance toward Min Aung Hlaing, insisting that he be banned.
“Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei have agreed to maintain the same position as [they did with] the ASEAN summit,” said a government source in an ASEAN country who declined to be identified, referring to the demand that Myanmar be represented by a nonpolitical figure, according to Reuters.
This week, Sun Guoxiang, the special envoy for Asian affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arrived in Myanmar and held a meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.
Before he visited Myanmar, Sun visited Singapore and Brunei and was told that Min Aung Hlaing could not participate in the virtual summit. Faced with ASEAN’s opposition, Sun told Min Aung Hlaing at a meeting in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, on the weekend that China had to accept the ASEAN stand.
China “would maintain the nonpolitical representative principle applied by ASEAN,” the regional diplomat quoted Sun as saying, according to Reuters.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah confirmed the bloc’s unwavering stand on accepting only a nonpolitical figure, referring to the “wisdom” shown by leaders before the October summit.
“Indonesia is consistent in its position on who should represent Myanmar at the forthcoming leaders’ summit,” Faizasyah said.
Xi’s first appearance at an ASEAN-China summit is a strong indication that China is increasing its focus on ASEAN as a whole, as the relationship passes the three-decade mark. It comes at a time when the rivalry between the US and China is intensifying.
Late last month, ASEAN granted Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) status to China, along with Australia. The announcement of Australia’s CSP was made one day ahead of China’s.
Last year, bilateral ASEAN-China trade reached US$732 billion, making ASEAN the biggest trade partner of China, replacing the EU. China’s top five trade partners are ASEAN, the EU, the US, Japan and South Korea.
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