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Myanmar Crisis

ASEAN meets with China as progress on Myanmar consensus stalls

Bloc wants commitment from junta that its envoys have access to 'all parties'

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center) delivers a statement, flanked by his ministers following an ASEAN Leaders' Meeting in April in Jakarta where a five-point consensus over Myanmar was reached.   © AP

JAKARTA -- ASEAN "will appreciate" China's help in carrying out its five-point consensus to resolve the crisis in Myanmar, Indonesia's foreign minister said on Monday as the regional bloc looks to spur slow progress on the outcome of its emergency meeting in April.

Foreign ministers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations members met with their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Chongqing on Monday to discuss regional issues, including the ongoing turmoil in Myanmar.

Monday's meeting was requested by ASEAN and marks the first face-to-face talks between the two sides in over a year. The junta's foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, also attended, according to Global New Light of Myanmar, a state-owned newspaper.

The five-point consensus, which ASEAN agreed on in its meeting with junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, included an immediate cessation of violence and the start of constructive dialogue to find a peaceful solution "in the interests of the people." It was also agreed that a special envoy of the ASEAN chair will mediate in the talks.

Yet the junta's continued crackdown on demonstrators and ethnic armed forces have meant that little progress has been made more than a month after the leaders' meeting. More than 800 people have been killed in Myanmar since the junta seized control in a coup on Feb. 1 in a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

"ASEAN has worked hard so that the ASEAN leaders' meeting could be held in Jakarta in April... [which] resulted in five-points of consensus," Retno Marsudi, Indonesia's foreign minister, told reporters in an online briefing after the meeting.

"ASEAN's current task is to implement it immediately," Marsudi said. "China's support to ASEAN to follow up on the five-points of consensus will be highly appreciated, because this will contribute to efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis."

Marsudi's ASEAN counterparts expressed concern over the lack of major progress on the consensus.

Malayasia's Hishammuddin Hussein said in a Twitter post that developments have been "painfully slow." The international community "is awaiting ASEAN's further action," said Hishammuddin, whose deputy attended the conference.

Foreign ministers from ASEAN member countries and China gathered for talks in Chongqing on June 7. (Photo from a Twitter post by Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein)

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he "urged for more and faster progress" on the consensus.

"Only the people of Myanmar can determine the country's future, but ASEAN stands ready to help and facilitate mediation to achieve national reconciliation," Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post.

For China, the meeting presented an opportunity to show its desire for stronger ties with ASEAN. Beijing sees the bloc has little choice but to depend more on China for handling the coronavirus pandemic and the Myanmar crisis, and it presents a chance to assert Chinese leadership.

Some ASEAN members hoping for a early restoration of democracy look to China's influence on the Myanmar military as a way to ensure compliance with the consensus.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement on the ASEAN-China meeting made no mention of Myanmar.

ASEAN managed to send Brunei's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof and compatriot Lim Jock Hoi, secretary-general of ASEAN, on a working visit to Myanmar on Friday and Saturday. A statement from the regional bloc dated June 5 said the emissaries "stressed the importance of the effective and timely implementation of the five-point consensus" to the junta, as well as called for the release of all political prisoners.

Prior to their meeting with the Chinese foreign minister, ASEAN ministers held an informal breakfast meeting and were briefed about the visit, Marsudi said.

"In addition to the commitment of nine ASEAN member countries to work hard to encourage the implementation of the five-points of consensus, successful implementation requires the commitment of Myanmar, including the military," the Indonesian foreign minister said. "Special envoys must have access to talk to all parties. This requires a commitment from the Myanmar military."

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the Chinese ambassador met with Min Aung Hlaing. The post also said China "hopes for the earlier restoration of peace and stability in Myanmar, and supports the implementation of consensus by ASEAN and Myanmar," while China will "continue to play a constructive role in this regard."

ASEAN's foreign policy strategy has traditionally sought to maintain an equidistant position from the world's powers. But China's gravity has strengthened, with the country now ranking as the biggest trading partner for a majority of ASEAN members.

Rising military tensions add to concerns in the bloc about overreliance on their giant neighbor to the north. Just last month, Malaysia accused China of flying military planes near Malaysian airspace.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has made overtures on a closer relationship with the Southeast Asian bloc. In March, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad -- a group consisting of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia -- agreed to provide vaccines to ASEAN at the group's first summit.

Additional reporting by Tsukasa Hadano in Beijing and Tsuyoshi Nagasawa in Washington.

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