SINGAPORE: The “very slow” progress being made to resolve the ongoing crisis in Myanmar is disappointing, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Jun 7).
The situation in Myanmar was among the issues discussed at Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Chongqing, China.
“All of us were united on the need for an immediate cessation of violence, on the need for the release of detainees and for meaningful negotiations and dialogue to occur among all parties," Dr Balakrishnan told Singapore reporters over a call from Chongqing.
“And even the appointment of an ASEAN envoy only makes sense if there is a genuine desire within Myanmar itself for genuine dialogue and negotiations and reconciliation. So this is still a work in progress,” he added.
“To be honest with you, we are disappointed at the slow – very, very slow progress. Unfortunately, we know that there are still civilians who have been hurt or killed. There has been no release of political detainees, there has been no real sign of meaningful political dialogue and negotiation. So we’ll have to watch this space.”
Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that ASEAN’s main role is not to interfere, as “in the end, only the people themselves within Myanmar can determine its future”.
“But ASEAN stands ready to help, to be supportive, to facilitate mediation if possible, but we will have to wait. It’s disappointing but let’s not give up hope,” he said.
SOUTH CHINA SEA CODE OF CONDUCT
The high-level meeting in Chongqing marks the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China relations.
It also comes amid recent tensions in the South China Sea. On May 31, Chinese warplanes entered Malaysia's maritime zone air space and flew within 60 nautical miles of Sarawak – a move that Malaysia called a “breach of (its) airspace and sovereignty”.
Dr Balakrishnan said the situation in the South China Sea is an example of the challenges in ties between China and ASEAN.
He added that officials have been “working in the last few years" on trying to make progress on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.
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It was meant to be finalised by the end of the year, but talks have been stalled since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
“This morning the officials met … And all this again is preparatory work for what I hope will be progress in the years to come to a substantive Code of Conduct, which will improve stability, security, peace and opportunity for prosperity across Southeast Asia, and in the South China Sea between us and China," he said.
“NOT THE RIGHT TIME" TO RESTART TRAVEL
Dr Balakrishnan also acknowledged the “effective cooperation” between China and ASEAN since the pandemic set in - noting China's provision of vaccines and medical supplies to the region.
Beyond this, he said that Singapore and China are looking at how they can restart travel safely, assuming the COVID-19 situation remains under control.
Dr Balakrishnan had said in April that Singapore welcomed China’s proposal on the mutual recognition of health certificates, calling it a "timely initiative" as both countries have begun vaccination programmes.
On Monday, he said there have been discussions on bilateral recognition of vaccine certificates and both sides are sorting out the details of protocols for travel.
“So yes, the discussions are ongoing, it’s positive. But like I said, this is not the right time to press the start button yet,” he said.
He added, however, that when the situation improves both in Singapore and in China, the two countries will be ready.
OTHER AREAS OF DISCUSSION
Dr Balakrishnan noted that the past three decades of diplomatic ties have been “momentous” with China and ASEAN’s economic development.
The meetings are thus a chance to “reflect on successes” but also to discuss ways to move forward on challenges confronting China and ASEAN, he said.
Another “fertile” area of discussion, he said, was economic recovery and opportunities for investment – particularly relating to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Sustainable development was also on the agenda – an area that will provide “ample opportunities for collaboration in the future”, he said.