Myanmar Urges Calm After Social Media Spat Between US, Chinese Embassies

By The Irrawaddy 23 July 2020

YANGON—In the wake of the recent frenzied social media exchange between the Chinese and US embassies in Yangon over China’s actions in the South China Sea and Hong Kong, which the US described as “part of a larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors”, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry urged powerful countries to maintain good relations, saying this was in the interests of regional and ASEAN countries, including Myanmar.

In a statement on Saturday, which was first published in The Irrawaddy as a guest column, the US Embassy in Yangon also said that Myanmar was vulnerable to huge Chinese investments projects that could lead to debt-traps for the Southeast Asian country. The article also accused China of failing to take action to curb human trafficking and drug production that affect Myanmar, among other issues.

The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar on Sunday responded furiously, accusing the United States of “outrageously smearing” the country and trying to drive a wedge between it and its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary U Soe Han told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Myanmar has practiced a neutral foreign policy since independence in 1948, while maintaining good will in its relations, based on mutual interests, with countries near and far. This policy had been observed during the Cold War and beyond, he said.

“We have never encouraged any attempts to fuel military rivalries between powerful parties. Myanmar has always pushed to solve conflicts by means of engagement and negotiation,” he said.

The country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, once told Nikkei Asian Review that Myanmar had maintained a very “commonsensical” foreign policy ever since independence, as the country is a “small nation, not yet developed.”

“We [were] never at the stage where we were able to call the shots, as it were,” she said.

The spat between China and the US in Myanmar comes as relations between the two superpowers are already deteriorating over a range of issues including COVID-19, their trade war and intelligence disputes.

U Soe Han said Myanmar prefers to play a role that promotes global peace and enhances cooperation among powerful countries.

“Especially in the time of COVID-19, when the whole world is facing challenges, we should be more careful to avoid any conflicts that could make people’s lives more difficult in Myanmar and elsewhere in the world,” he said.

In July 2016, when an arbitration court in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and that it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its actions, the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy government of Myanmar urged all parties to exercise restraint with regard to activities that could increase tension and to refrain from threats or use of force.

“Although Myanmar is not a claimant state, we attach great importance to developments in the South China Sea. We have been consistent in calling for and supporting all endeavors to promote a peaceful resolution of disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea,” the statement said.

The Irrawaddy’s Naypyitaw Bureau chief Htet Naing Zaw contributed from Naypyitaw.

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