Tue 31 May 2011
Filed under: ASEAN,Opinion,Other
President Thein Sein declared that the historical paukphaw (fraternity) relationship between Burma and China has reached “a strategic level” during his three-day state visit to China, potentially alienating Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members in the process.“Having been designated as partners for multi-strategic cooperation, Myanmar [Burma]—China relations have reached a new chapter and the highest level in China’s foreign relations,” he said while meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao at Bejing’s Great Hall of the People on May 28, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar. “Both [of the] two countries have to work hard at all levels to maintain multi-strategic cooperation partnership relations.”
The two nations issued a joint statement defining the strategic level as: “The two sides will maintain close high-level contacts, continue to promote strategic mutual trust and further enhance friendly exchanges and cooperation between the parliaments, governments, judicial departments and political parties of the two countries.”
This was Thein Sein’s first state visit to China after assuming the presidency and he headed a high-level delegation with more than a dozen cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and senior officials of the new government. He discussed a broad range of bilateral and regional issues with his Chinese counterpart.
During discussions with President Hu, Thein Sein apparently sought China’s political support for Burma’s relationship with Asean—specifically the issue of taking the bloc’s chairmanship in 2014—and financial support for a number of development projects assisted by China.
In return for China’s consistent support, Thein Sein pledged to President Hu that his new government maintained support for the “One China Policy” and backed its northern neighbor regarding South China Sea issues.
Thein Sein’s vocal backing coincides with rising tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Chinese marine surveillance vessels recently approached a ship operated by the state oil and gas firm PetroVietnam and cut its exploration cables, according to AFP.
Asean and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) on the sidelines of the sixth Asean-China Summit in November 2002, and so Burma has an obligation as a member state to respect the DOC and take a neutral standpoint. Thein Sein, however, decided to side himself with China.
Point five of the DOC stipulates: “The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from inhabiting the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
Furthermore, Thein Sein’s support for China in South China Sea issues could further weaken the unity of Asean and is not consistent with bloc leaders’ Joint Statement on the Asean Community in a Global Community of Nations, which was issued during the Indonesia Asean Summit in May.
According to this statement, Asean is making efforts to have a common platform by 2022 for “a more coordinated, cohesive, and coherent Asean position on global issues of common interest and concern, based on a shared Asean global view, which would further enhance Asean’s common voice in relevant multilateral fora.”
Thein Sein also sought China’s assistance to be able to lead Asean in 2014. Referring to China’s experiences in hosting international games and conferences, Thein Sein said: “Myanmar will host the SEA [Southeast Asia] Games in 2013 and the Asean Summit in 2014, so Myanmar would like China to offer its assistance.”
Thein Sein needs the support of Asean’s dialogue partners in order for Burma to gain the bloc chairmanship, and the Chinese president is a crucial figure in this regard for the influence he wields. Other key partners are the European Union, Japan, United States, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior editor for Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation, said that China’s support is key for the Burmese chairmanship bid.
He said: “The scope and extent of China’s influence and interest depends on the ability of Thien Sein’s administration to gain international recognition as soon as possible. The best way to wrap up the seven-point road map is to chair Asean in 2014.
“China’s attendance is important because of the East Asia Summit and other key meetings.