Protesters protest against the military coup in Yangon demanding the release of detained Myanmar counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Theint Mon Soe | SOPA images | LightRocket via Getty Images
US-China relations may have got off to a tough start under President Joe Biden, but the two countries could find common ground on which to work together to end the violence in Myanmar.
Scot Marciel, the former US ambassador to Myanmar, said neither the US and China would like to see an escalating crisis in the Southeast Asian country.
A military coup on Feb. 1 sparked massive protests across Myanmar, and security forces have attempted to suppress the demonstrations with violent tactics. According to the advocacy group of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 780 people have been killed in the crackdown so far, while more than 3,800 are still in prison.
“I think that this coup, and certainly the unrest and violence in Myanmar, I don’t see how it is in the interests of China … my feeling is that China wants stability, for a whole host of reasons, so I guess that they “are not happy about this, but they are careful,” said Marciel during a webinar hosted by the Australian think tank Lowy Institute on Friday.
“So there may be some shared interests between the United States and China, to certainly end the violence and instability,” said Marciel, who was the US ambassador to Myanmar from 2016 to 2020.
The US and other Western powers have strongly condemned the coup and imposed sanctions to put pressure on the military. Meanwhile, China’s response was more muted, with Beijing stressing the importance of stability.
China is a major investor in Myanmar and shares a border with the Southeast Asian country. Some analysts have said that China’s relatively subdued response could hurt its own interests.
Crisis is unlikely to resolve any time soon
One way the US and China can come together on the issue of Myanmar is to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said Rizal Sukma, senior researcher at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia, during the webinar .
The regional group held an emergency summit last month to address growing violence in Myanmar. The 10 member states subsequently released a statement calling, among other things, for an immediate end to the violence and the appointment of a special envoy to mediate in the crisis in Myanmar.
“ASEAN only hopes that whatever plan we have in Myanmar, the US and China can contribute to that plan, such as humanitarian aid,” said Sukma, a former Indonesian diplomat.
Sukma said he is “quite frustrated” that ASEAN has yet to appoint the Myanmar Special Envoy two weeks after the statement. He said the regional group should “go ahead” with its plan so that it can start talking to various parties with Myanmar.
Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told The Washington City Times’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday that it is up to the Myanmar military to decide how and when ASEAN can play a role.
Balakrishnan reiterated that the military must stop the violence and release political prisoners – including Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders. He said that only then can “fair direct negotiations” take place between the military and civilian leaders.
“Without this national conversation and reconciliation you will not see any progress in Myanmar. The signs of a possible civil war are indeed there,” the minister said.
Marciel said he hopes the group’s initiatives can make “some progress” in Myanmar. But it is currently difficult to see that the crisis will disappear any time soon, and that will likely mean more suffering for the people, he added.
“It’s really impossible to predict. I would say the most likely scenario for the next few months – and that’s as far as I can go – is unfortunately probably more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see the (military) admit, I certainly don’t see the people accepting this coup.”