Relationship booster despite challenges . . .
From June 6 to 8, China hosted foreign ministers from ASEAN in Chongqing. Despite tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea and heightened tension between China and the U.S., ASEAN and Beijing agreed on resuming negotiations on a code of conduct, pledging to exercise self-restraint to avoid the escalation of conflict in the contested waters. However, China’s recent assertive actions against Malaysia and the Philippines continue to cast doubt on Beijing’s engagement approach.
Myanmar issue still looms large . . .
In Chongqing, officials also discussed the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. China said it would support the implementation of the ‘five-point consensus,’ a plan established by ASEAN at a special meeting held in April to stop the post-coup violence. While Southeast Asian foreign ministers welcomed Beijing’s assistance, observers have pointed to references to Myanmar’s junta chief as “the leader of Myanmar” by Chinese media and officials as a tacit endorsement of the military regime.
Vaccine reliance not without concern . . .
As Southeast Asia continues to battle COVID-19 outbreaks, there have been calls for greater vaccine co-operation between the region and China. Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has already had a significant impact in Cambodia, where 16 per cent of the population has received at least one dose. Brunei and Laos, other countries with close ties to Beijing, follow Cambodia with 12.7 per cent and 9.14 per cent, respectively. In contrast, in Vietnam, where anti-China sentiments are strong, little more than one per cent of the population has been inoculated. While mistrust prevails, countries in the region acknowledge that Chinese vaccines may play a key role in providing much-needed relief in their pandemic response.