China says the brutal military coup in Myanmar should be left to play out without foreign interference amid criticism over its muted response to the unfolding crisis.
China’s Deputy Head of Mission to Australia – Wang Xining – fronted the National Press Club on Wednesday, where he was questioned about China’s reluctance to take a stronger stand against the coup.
His defence of China’s response came the same day as Australia’s top diplomat warned the situation “imperilled regional security” in a rare public speech.
China has close ties with Myanmar – where it holds significant economic and strategic interests – but is viewed with suspicion by Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement.
Protests have escalated in Myanmar since the military seized power on 1 February. More than 700 people have been killed in the resulting crackdown by security forces.
While Western countries, including Australia, have strongly condemned the military coup – China has been more cautious in its response, emphasising the need for stability.
Mr Wang said the situation should be left to play out without foreign interference.
“We hope the situation in Myanmar will stabilise and all the political factions, political forces, in Myanmar will sit at a table and talk out a solution that will ensure the welfare of the Myanmar people,” he told the National Press Club.
“I don’t think Myanmar would love to see much more foreign interference, whether it’s political or in another way.”
In a starkly contrasting speech, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary Frances Adamson emphasised the need for coordinated international action against what she described as a “catastrophic” situation.
“(It is) a security, political and humanitarian crisis that is not only catastrophic for the people of Myanmar, but imperils regional stability and mires ASEAN in issues that divert attention from the priorities of economic recovery and strategic agency,” Ms Adamson told the Asia Society.
“We’re engaging with our international partners to respond, and doing what we can to support the people of Myanmar through our development program, without in any way conferring legitimacy on the military authorities.”
The Association of South East Asian Nations is set to meet this week for an emergency summit in Jakarta addressing the military coup in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s military leader General Min Aung Hlaing is expected to join the special meeting, prompting concern this will hand unwarranted legitimacy to the military junta.
The unfolding military coup has prompted sanctions from international allies including the United States, European Union, Canada and United Kingdom.
Australia has also cut military ties with Myanmar in response to military’s crackdown.
While China’s response has been less forceful, it has supported a United Nations Council statement calling for the release of democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and condemning violence against protesters.
However, the statement was forced to drop language that condemned the army takeover as a coup and threatening possible further action due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.
Chinese diplomat hits out at Australia’s banning of Chinese company
Mr Wang appeared at the National Press Club on Wednesday as part of a panel focusing on China relations in the shadow of deteriorating ties between Beijing and Canberra.
In his response to questions, he also took aim at Australia’s involvement in the banning of Chinese company Huawei from telecommunications networks.
“Australia connived with the United States in a very unethical, illegal, immoral suppression of Chinese companies,” he said.
Australia was the first country to ban the Chinese communications company from its 5G network in 2018.
Following this decision, former US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2018 prohibiting federal agencies and contractors from using Huawei.
Britain has also banned Huawei from its 5G network.
Mr Wang attempted to put a diplomatic spin on the prospect of improving relations between Australia and China.
“We like to share our yoke with all partners through the difficulties caused by COVID-19 and sail through this trying time,” he said.
But he also warned: “China is not a cow. I don’t think anybody should fancy the idea to milk China when she’s in her prime and plot to slaughter it in the end.”
Mr Wang was also pressed on the lack of Australian media presence in China after two foreign correspondents were forced out of the country last year following pressure from security forces.
“We’ll continue to discuss and we’ll find out a solution for this,” he said.
He also addressed the status of China’s strained relationship with the United States.
“We don’t have a bad relationship with United States,” Mr Wang said.
“What we want is non-confrontation and mutual cooperation and have that principle be adhered to by both sides, China and the US.”