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ASEAN upgrades ties with China, calls Myanmar part of 'family'

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By Reuters
ASEAN upgrades strategic ties with China, says Myanmar a key member
ASEAN upgrades strategic ties with China, says Myanmar a key member   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021   -  

<div> <p>By Ain Bandial</p> <p><span class="caps">BANDAR</span> <span class="caps">SERI</span> <span class="caps">BEGAWAN</span> -The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (<span class="caps">ASEAN</span>) said on Thursday it has agreed with China to upgrade their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, a day after reaching a similar deal with Australia. </p> <p>Australia’s clinching of the enhanced partnership was a symbolic win for Canberra in beating China to the first such deal with the fast-growing Southeast Asia region, which has become a strategic battleground between Beijing and Washington. </p> <p>Hailing the agreement at a news conference, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, chair of <span class="caps">ASEAN</span>, was also asked about Myanmar’s future attendance after its junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led a coup in February, was excluded from Asian summits this week. </p> <p>“Myanmar is an integral part of the <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> family and their membership has not been questioned,” he said. “<span class="caps">ASEAN</span> will always be there for Myanmar and we have continued to offer help through the implementation of the five-point consensus.”</p> <p>Min Aung Hlaing was sidelined over his failure to follow that pact, which he agreed with <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> in April, committing to end hostilities, start dialogue and facilitate humanitarian aid and mediation efforts by a special <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> envoy.</p> <p>‘<span class="caps">NON</span>-<span class="caps">INTERFERENCE</span>’ </p> <p>His sidelining was an unprecedented snub by a bloc criticised for decades for failing to stop atrocities and hiding behind a longstanding code of non-meddling. Myanmar was asked to send a non-political representative to the virtual summits instead, but the junta refused. </p> <p>“For this meeting, we have given Myanmar space while firmly upholding the principles enshrined in the <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> charter including that of non-interference,” the sultan said. </p> <p>Speaking at a separate news conference, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said it was unclear if Myanmar would join future <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> meetings and stressed the no-show this week was Myanmar’s call. </p> <p>Asked if it would continue to be part of <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> events, Saifuddin Abdullah said: “That’s the one million dollar question which I cannot answer.”</p> <p>Cambodia, next year’s <span class="caps">ASEAN</span> chair, will keep pressure on Myanmar to stick to its agreement, its Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn told Reuters on Thursday, warning the country was on the brink of civil war.</p> </div>