By Reuters and Channel NewsAsia
Kuala Lumpur – A summit between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) today (Nov. 22) was held without a representative from Myanmar, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said.
The reason for the non-attendance was not immediately clear, and a spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government did not answer calls seeking comment.
China lobbied for Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to attend the summit, according to diplomatic sources.
As of Sunday, Asean countries excluding Myanmar had agreed with China that Myanmar’s envoy to Beijing would attend, Saifuddin said.
Asean sidelined Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power on Feb. 1, from virtual summits in October over his failure to make inroads in implementing an agreed peace plan, in an unprecedented exclusion for the bloc.
Myanmar refused to send junior representation and blamed Asean for departing from its non-interference principle and caving to Western pressure.
China not seeking hegemony: Xi
Today’s China-Asean virtual summit, which was held to celebrate 30 years of dialogue, would help regional peace, stability and development, said Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Chinese state media.
At the summit, Xi reportedly told Asean leaders that Beijing would not coerce its smaller regional neighbours.
China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to “bully” smaller countries, and would work with Asean to eliminate “interference”, Mr Xi said.
“China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, good friend, and good partner of Asean,” state media quoted Xi as saying.
China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against Asean members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
The Philippines on Thursday condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.
The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified”, and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defence commitments.
“The United States strongly believes that PRC actions asserting its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims undermine peace and security in the region,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Xi that he “abhors” the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute.
“This does not speak well of the relations between our nations,” Duterte said.
Comprehensive strategic partnership
In a Facebook post after the summit, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Asean and China have continued to strengthen their partnership despite the Covid-19 pandemic. He also looked ahead to the resumption of travel between China and Asean countries, and the enhancement of a free trade agreement between Beijing and the bloc.
“As we shift into post-pandemic recovery, it is timely for Asean and China to discuss restoring cross-border travel progressively and safely,” he said.
“Also, enhancing the Asean-China FTA can boost our economies and create new opportunities for companies and workers in the region.”
Lee added that Asean and China have “raised our cooperation a notch, and made it a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.
“I am confident that this will be meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial,” he said.
Lee described recent high-level exchanges between China and the United States as “encouraging for regional peace and stability”, and called on Asean and China to continue working together to manage South China Sea tensions.
Myanmar no show
Xi told the summit that China and Asean had “cast off the gloom of the Cold War” – when the region was wracked by superpower competition and conflicts such as the Vietnam War – and had jointly maintained regional stability.
China frequently criticises the United States for “Cold War thinking” when Washington engages its regional allies to push back against Beijing’s growing military and economic influence.
US President Joe Biden joined Asean leaders for a virtual summit in October and pledged greater engagement with the region.
Leaders of Asean and China are seen on a monitor in Hanoi during a virtual summit today, Nov. 22, 2021. Photo: Duy Do/ Channel NewsAsia