Breaking its traditional silence on the South China Sea dispute, Myanmar released its first public statement about the spat on July 13, following an international tribunal’s ruling in the Philippines’ favour.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in April. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar TimesState Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in April. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times
Myanmar is not a claimant in the dispute, but during its turn as ASEAN chair in 2014 it oversaw a tougher line on China than under the previous, more subservient chair Cambodia. During a foreign ministers’ meeting in 2014, ASEAN issued a statement of “serious concerns” over heightening tensions in the dispute. China responded by pledging diplomatic support, and by a showing a willingness to spread cash, among its allies in ASEAN.
For Myanmar, the maritime dispute has served as a minor sticking point as it charts its course between contending powers China and the US, while also trying to avoid alienating other ASEAN member states.
Until its unprecedented public statement on the issue, Myanmar has not deviated from the ASEAN party line of “non-interference and consensus”, signing on to guileless joint statements.
The diplomatic turn on the maritime feud comes as the country’s new leader grapples with Myanmar’s own problems and disputes with China, and seeks to reposition foreign affairs under the democratically elected administration.