OPED: ASEAN Must Cooperate With China To Solve Myanmar Crisis – Experts

Ahead of the ASEAN summit, scheduled in the Indonesian capital Jakarta later this month, experts have urged the member nations to cooperate with China to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

They felt that so far, the 10-member bloc has been unable to force Myanmar’s military leaders to stop the violence.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, Azmi Hassan, a lecturer at the University of Technology Malaysia, said the statements from ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, which harshly criticized Myanmar, were unable to stop the violence by the junta.

Hassan said the bloc needs to cooperate with a stronger country like China to force the Myanmar junta to accept the ASEAN summit decisions.

Indonesia has said that the ASEAN summit on Myanmar will be held later this month in the capital Jakarta.

“We can expect to hold the special summit in April,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, told Anadolu Agency.

“But if you only expect ASEAN [to put pressure on Myanmar], it might be difficult, because ASEAN is unable to. China is needed in the ASEAN Summit,” said Hassan.

Myanmar officially established diplomatic relations with China in June 1950.

According to official data, as of July 2019, China’s cumulative investment in Myanmar was more than 25% of total foreign investment in the country.

The total imports and exports of the two countries were only $11 billion in 2004, which have reached almost $168 billion in the first 11 months of 2019, according to China’s Trade Ministry.

China’s Importance

Rizal Sukma, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, acknowledged China’s important role in resolving conflict in the country as it is closer to Myanmar’s military.

Five Eyes Dossier China

“Let’s try to solve it among East Asian countries first. It will get more complicated if the US follows along. Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s national armed force – also doesn’t trust the US,” Sukma told Anadolu Agency.

He said the ASEAN and Tatmadaw must be able to agree to create a humanitarian pause and start humanitarian works in Myanmar at the summit meeting.

“ASEAN can go to Myanmar to provide humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19 aid, food aid, and health assistance for those who become victims,” he added.

ASEAN researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Lidya Christin Sinaga, said that the summit was the right step for the bloc to sit down with Myanmar military junta to discuss the crisis.

“At the summit, Myanmar is expected to convey openly what is happening in the country,” she told Anadolu Agency, adding that resolution for the conflict must also prioritize ASEAN centrality.

Sinaga said although it is cooperating with China and Russia in resolving conflicts, ASEAN must be at the forefront of the crisis resolution.

“Do not let the efforts made by ASEAN be negated by its partner countries. We know the real position of China and Russia in the UN Security Council,” she added.

Earlier last week, China rejected sanctions against Myanmar and called for a “democratic transition during the UN Security Council consultations”.

“One-sided pressure and calling for sanctions or other coercive measures will only aggravate tension and confrontation and further complicate the situation, which is by no means constructive,” said Zhang Jun, permanent representative of China to the UN, who was present at the meeting.

Formal and informal channels

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Indonesia’s representative for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said the member countries need to use formal and informal channels to resolve conflicts in Myanmar.

“The formal ones are through ASEAN meetings, while the informal ones can be through personal approaches, back door diplomacy, and behind-the-scenes lobbying,” said Wahyuningrum.

She said formal meetings could create pressure.

“All of these must be used. What has not been done is the key to dialogue with the security forces. That’s what is important, talking to the security forces, with the junta, to change their minds,” said Wahyuningrum.

She also urged the importance of taking steps to stop violence and avoiding casualties, which need to be emphasized to the Myanmar military.

“After that, it is hoped that humanitarian assistance can enter and further continue with the release of political prisoners,” she added.

Wahyuningrum said after these steps a dialogue can be conducted between the junta and the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Representative Committee (CRPH), which was formed by the members of parliament from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“We cannot have a dialogue when people are being killed. It is unacceptable. It is politically incorrect,” she added.

Nearly 600 people in Myanmar have been killed since the country’s military seized control on Feb. 1, a Myanmar-based civil rights group said.

​​​​​​​As many as 596 people have been reportedly killed and 2,847 put under detention with 38 of them sentenced by the junta as of April 7, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Earlier, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, who currently serves as chair of the 10-member association, and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin released a joint statement, expressing “serious concern over the ongoing crisis in Myanmar and the rising number of fatalities”. They urged all parties to exercise restraint and seek a peaceful solution.