For the first time, the US embassy in Myanmar has called out China saying that the latter’s actions in the South China Sea and Hong Kong part of a “larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors”.
Though the embassy did not specifically mention the recent China-India standoff in eastern Ladakh, Indo-Pacific region experts are of the opinion that the embassy’s statement also aimed at PLA’s actions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The Trump administration recently outlined its policy on rules-based order in the South China Sea, a move that many viewed as its strongest message so far to China on its activities in in the region.
In a guest column titled ‘How the Erosion of Sovereignty Elsewhere Impacts Myanmar at Home’, chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Myanmar George N Sibley said China has taken advantage of the pandemic and continued its crackdown on democracy and disrespect for other nations’ sovereignty.
“As governments responded to the twin calamities of the pandemic and its economic fallout, China aggressively cracked down on the independent, democratic spirit of Hong Kong, breaking a promise it made only 20 years ago,” Sibley said in the column.
“The PRC (People’s Republic of China) also continued its unprecedented campaign to undermine the sovereignty of ASEAN countries in the South China Sea,” he said.
“For Myanmar, these disputes may seem far away, but Beijing’s actions there are part of a larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors? China’s actions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea alarm the United States and our friends and allies because these kinds of actions—breaking promises, ignoring the well-being of smaller nations, rewriting history—can happen anywhere,” he added.
Reacting to the column, China’s embassy in Myanmar accused the US of “outrageously smearing” the country and driving a wedge with its Southeast Asian neighbors over the contested South China Sea and Hong Kong.
The Chinese embassy said US agencies abroad were doing “disgusting things” to contain China and had showed a “selfish, hypocritical, contemptible, and ugly face”.
At the June 26 ASEAN Summit, Southeast Asian leaders issued a strong statement that territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved in line with international law.
“The United States has a deep respect for all ASEAN countries, including Myanmar, and welcomed this statement that upheld the fundamental principles of the rules-based international system that undergirds the security and sovereignty of all nations. Four years ago, the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal rejected Beijing’s maritime claim as a violation of international law. Despite this—and with limited or no consultation with ASEAN claimants—China has deployed arbitrary fishing bans and harassed ships in the South China Sea,” the statement had said.
China has continued to block ASEAN countries from accessing resources off their coasts, including vast reserves of oil and gas and some of the world’s richest fisheries—the very livelihood of millions who call Southeast Asian coastal communities home, the senior diplomat pointed out.
“These events are taking place far from Myanmar, but the PRC has used similar behaviour to intimidate, threaten, and undermine Myanmar sovereignty closer to home”, Sibley said.
“Instead of island building, it takes the shape of infrastructure projects and special economic zones that pile on debt and cede regulatory control, and benefit China far more than they do the people of Myanmar. This is how modern sovereignty is often lost—not through dramatic, overt action, but through a cascade of smaller ones that lead to its slow erosion over time,” he added.