Question – Could you please introduce the Dialogue Partnership of ASEAN and how Myanmar plays the role of Dialogue Coordinator?
Answer – In accordance with Article (41) of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN has developed friendly relations and mutually beneficial dialogue, cooperation and partnerships with countries and sub-regional, regional and international organizations and institutions. The external relations of ASEAN shall adhere to the purposes and principles set forth in the ASEAN Charter.
To date, ASEAN has established Dialogue Partnerships with 11 countries namely Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, and Sectoral Dialogue Partnerships with 6 countries namely Brazil, Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, Turkiye and United Arab Emirates, as well as Development Partnerships with 4 countries namely Chile, France, Germany and Italy. ASEAN has also established regional cooperation mechanisms such as ASEAN Plus Three and East Asia Summit.
ASEAN is the primary driving force in regional arrangements it maintains its centrality in regional cooperation and community building. In the conduct of external relations of ASEAN, Member States coordinate and endeavour to develop common positions and pursue joint actions on the basis of unity and solidarity. The ASEAN Member States, acting as Country Coordinators, take turns to take overall responsibility for coordinating and promoting the interests of ASEAN in its relations with the relevant Dialogue Partners. The Country Coordinators shall represent ASEAN and enhance relations on the basis of mutual respect and equality, in conformity with ASEAN’s principles and have to co-chair relevant meetings between ASEAN and external partners.
Myanmar has taken over the Coordinatorship of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations from the Philippines at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with China for the term (2021-2024) and has been coordinating among ASEAN Member States and China for the development of Dialogue Relations.
Question – Could you please share your experience as Country Coordinator of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations?
Answer – Since the establishment of the relations in 1991, ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations have become one of ASEAN’s most substantive and dynamic partnerships. As ASEAN and China have established a full range of mechanisms in all Three Community Pillars and the three decades of friendship remain strong and deep which is contributing to our mutual benefit and to regional peace, security, stability and prosperity, ASEAN-China cooperation is one of the most important relations for ASEAN. The deeper and more comprehensive the cooperation between ASEAN and China is the more duties and obligations the country coordinator bears.
The Dialogue Partnership between ASEAN and China is guided by the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2021-2025) and Annual Work Plan on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Firstly, I would like to explain the Plan of Action. The Work Plan for the implementation of the DOC will be explained later. The Plan of Action includes projects and activities under three pillars of political security, and economic and socio-cultural cooperation and they are implemented by the relevant sectoral bodies. In the monitoring process, Myanmar, as the country coordinator, developed the annual progress report on the implementation of the Plan of Action in cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat and it is yearly submitted to ASEAN-China Summit for Leader’s notation.
ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 which was adopted at the 21st ASEAN-China Summit to Commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership in 2018 and the Joint Statement of the ASEAN-China Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations: Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Peace, Security, Prosperity and Sustainable Development are also important political documents which paved the way for future directions of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. Therefore, Myanmar as the country coordinator takes the initiative to fully implement our Leader’s Statements.
In order to set up the annual priorities, Myanmar as coordinator conveys China’s proposals to the ASEAN Member States at the beginning of the year and further coordinates with China based on the consensus of ASEAN. In the same way, Myanmar consults with China to promote cooperation activities which are common interests of ASEAN Member States. In this regard, it is imperative that ASEAN shall be a driving force and maintain ASEAN Centrality in regional cooperation and community building.
ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Consultation (ACSOC) is regularly held in April or May to prepare the outcomes of the Post Ministerial Conference with China (PMC Plus China) and the annual ASEAN-China Summit. The ACSOC is co-chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. Myanmar as the coordinator shall coordinate among ASEAN Member States and China to reach a consensus on the dates, venue and provisional agenda for the meeting.
By coordinating so, policy matters and concept papers for the Joint Statements to be released at the ASEAN-China Summit, are being coordinated and reached consensus first among the ASEAN Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ASEAN Member States and China. The concept paper is the document which covers the background, objective, areas of cooperation and preliminary arrangements. After the concept paper has been agreed upon by ASEAN Member States and China, negotiations on the draft Joint Statements are being conducted by the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN (CPR) with the Chinese Mission in Jakarta. With regard to the Joint Statement related to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea(DOC), negotiations on the Structure of the Joint Statement are being conducted among Headquarters of the ASEAN Member States and China due to the sensitive and technical nature of the document, prior to the drafting of the Joint Statement by the CPR and the Chinese Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta.
The designation of the year of cooperation for every year is unique in ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. ASEAN and China designated the year 2022 as the ASEAN-China Year of Sustainable Development and the year 2023 as the ASEAN-China Year of Agricultural Development and Food Security Cooperation. The next year 2024 is intended to designate the year of ASEAN-China People-to-People Exchanges and enhance possible cooperation.
Question – What are the obvious facts that Myanmar has taken full obligations of the country coordinator?
Answer – Since Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997, Myanmar has taken the obligations of the Member State and is fully adhered to the basic principles and provisions enshrined in the ASEAN Charter. Furthermore, Myanmar brought initiatives which are beneficial for ASEAN and its region during its Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014.
In the same way, since Myanmar has taken the Coordinatorship, ASEAN and China continued to make significant progress and have achieved many positive outcomes such as (i) ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Cooperation in Support of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework; (ii) ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Enhancing Green and Sustainable Development Cooperation; and (iii) Joint Statement of the ASEAN-China Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations: Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Peace, Security, Prosperity and Sustainable Development, which were released at the 24th ASEAN-China Summit held in October 2021.
Under Myanmar’s strong Coordinatorship between the ASEAN Member States and China, ASEAN and China jointly announced that the dialogue relations were elevated to another milestone with the establishment of the ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) at the ASEAN-China Special Summit on 22 November 2021 to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. To effectively implement the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), ASEAN and China reached an agreement on an Annex to the existing ASEAN-China Plan of Action (2021-2025) which was successfully adopted at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) with China held on 4 August 2022.
In addition, the Joint Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the DOC, the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Strengthening Common and Sustainable Development and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Food Security Cooperation were adopted at the 25th ASEAN-China Summit held on 11 November 2022 under Myanmar’s Coordinatorship.
For the negotiations of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), Myanmar is closely working with the Heads of the Joint Working Group on DOC and co-chairing six meetings of the Joint Working Group on the implementation of the DOC with China during Myanmar’s Coordinatorship and achieved progress of negotiations on Single Draft Negotiating Text of the COC.
Although Myanmar as a responsible member of ASEAN Member States, has fulfilled its obligations, some ASEAN Member States treated Myanmar with indignity and inequality by giving a pretext on Myanmar’s internal political development.
As you are well aware, although Myanmar’s Political Representative to ASEAN Ministerial Meetings and Summits was denied by some ASEAN Member States, Myanmar never failed in its responsibility as country coordinator to contribute to the success of the meetings, particularly in preparing the outcome documents including the distribution of the document kit for the meeting, as well as the ASEAN Common Statement.
The above facts obviously prove that Myanmar has fulfilled its obligations as Country Coordinator for the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations.
Question – we learnt that Myanmar is the Co-chair for the process of the Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the DOC through your answers. We would like to know how Myanmar coordinates among ASEAN Member States and China on matters related to the South China Sea which draws international interest and what achieved so far.
Answer – In maintaining peace and stability in the region, including the South China Sea, ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) on 4 November 2002, which is a milestone, as the DOC is the first political document on the South China Sea issue jointly signed by ASEAN Member States and China, and embodied their political will to promote mutual trust and cooperation and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
As Myanmar is the country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, Myanmar is co-chairing the ASEAN-China Meeting of Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) with China. In the Implementation of the DOC, the ASEAN-China Meeting of Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the DOC and the ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) on the Implementation of the DOC are established. For the SOM-DOC mechanism, U Chan Aye, Permanent Secretary and SOM Leader for ASEAN-Myanmar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs is co-chairing the meeting with China and U Mang Hau Thang, Deputy Director-General, ASEAN Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is co-chairing meeting with China.
Despite the pandemic, the ASEAN Member States and China have maintained good momentum in their efforts towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) that is in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) through the step-by-step resumption of COC negotiations. The six times of ASEAN-China Meetings of the Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the DOC (JWG-DOC) were co-chaired by Myanmar and achieved some progress in the Negotiation of the COC.
At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) with China held on 4 August 2022, ASEAN and China reaffirmed the aspiration to expedite the COC negotiations and looked forward to the early completion of the second reading of the Single Draft Negotiating Text (SDNT). At present, we are negotiating the Basic Undertakings and Final Clause section of the Single Draft Negotiating Text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
In ensuring a more effective work process on the implementation of the DOC and the negotiation on the COC, the Annual Work Plan on the Implementation of the DOC is developed and circulated by Myanmar as Co-Chair. Under the Work Plan, the 1st Workshop on Marine Scientific Research, and the 1st and the 2nd Training Course on Marine Scientific Research in the South China Sea were successfully held in 2021 and 2022 respectively during Myanmar’s Coordinatorship.
As the year 2022 marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), owing to Myanmar’s concerted effort, ASEAN and China reached common ground on the negotiation of the Joint Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the DOC, which was finally adopted at the 25th ASEAN-China Summit held on 11 November 2022.
To celebrate the auspicious occasion of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), the Workshops on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) were successfully organized by China on 25 July 2022 in Beijing and by Cambodia on 20 December 2022 in Siem Reap respectively. At the Workshops, Permanent Secretary U Chan Aye delivered the opening remarks and U Mang Hau Thang, Deputy Director-General of the ASEAN Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed the sessions on Consultation of the COC and shared the views on how to proceed with the process of COC negotiations that led to mutually beneficial outcomes.
As I told you earlier, ASEAN and China have established the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership since 2021. Through the commencement of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, Myanmar as the country coordinator and Co-chair of the process of the Implementation of the DOC, remains committed to continuing constructive engagement, to keep the momentum of the progress of dialogue and consultation in moving forward towards early completion of the second reading of the single draft negotiating text (SDNT) of the COC. In coordinating between ASEAN Member States and China, flexibility, cooperation and compromise from ASEAN Member States and China are key ingredients to meet the expected outcomes.
Question – For the last question, how will you criticize the importance of China for ASEAN?
Answer – Not only China is an important partner of ASEAN but also ASEAN is an important organization for China. As I told you earlier, China is one of ASEAN’s most substantive and dynamic partnerships and the first dialogue partner which established the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN. After China and Australia have become Comprehensive Strategic Partners with ASEAN in 2021, other dialogue partners proposed to elevate the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN.
China prioritizes ASEAN in its foreign policy toward neighbouring countries. China was the first Dialogue Partner of ASEAN to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in 2003. This year 2023 marks the 20th Anniversary of China’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). China’s accession to the TAC has contributed to the stature of the TAC as the code of conduct for inter-state relations in the region. In addition, China was also the first Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) which expressed its intention to accede to the Protocol to the SEANWFZ without reservation.
On Economic cooperation, trade volume between ASEAN and China reached a new record of USD 669 billion in 2021, making ASEAN and China each other’s largest trading partner since 2020; foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from China to ASEAN amounted to USD 13.6 billion in 2021, almost double the USD 7.0 billion in 2020. To promote business opportunities, China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) is annually held in Nanning, China.
In addition, as ASEAN-China Centre was established in 2011 to undertake activities to help investors and businessmen from ASEAN member States in exploring trade and investment opportunities in China and vice versa; to increase people-to-people contacts public awareness, mutual understanding through cultural, educational and information exchanges, it facilitates business opportunities between ASEAN and China through mutual understanding and friendship. The economic growth of China benefits ASEAN which is geographically linked with China.
At the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Strengthening Common and Sustainable Development which was released at the 25th ASEAN-China Summit last year, China committed to advance cooperation in the four priority areas identified in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).
Furthermore, with regard to the South China Sea issue, ASEAN and China continue to work closely towards the full and effective implementation of the DOC and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to maintain the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity.
Therefore, as ASEAN and China have been closely cooperating in all areas of politics, economics and socio-culture and living side by side friendly for mutual benefit, I am saying that China is indeed important for ASEAN and ASEAN is as well important for China.