Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called for more strategic cooperation with Myanmar as the two Asian neighbours come under growing pressure from the West.
Wang made the remarks during a meeting with Myanmar’s President Win Myint in the capital Naypyidaw, saying Beijing would back the Southeast Asian nation to resolve its own problems.
“China will firmly support Myanmar to take a development path that is in line with its own domestic situation, and unswervingly support Myanmar on the international stage to stand up for its legitimate rights and national dignity and to safeguard the overall situation of its development and stability,” Wang said during the talks on Saturday, according to China’s foreign ministry.
He told the president that China also appreciated Myanmar’s “firm support” for its core interests.
Myanmar has been under mounting pressure over a brutal military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing. More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, and Washington has announced sanctions against military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other leaders over the crisis. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to defend her country against charges of genocide during a three-day hearing that begins on Tuesday in The Hague.
China, meanwhile, is facing international criticism over its mass detention of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and its approach to Hong Kong, which has been gripped by anti-government protests for six months. Beijing regularly tells critics not to interfere in its “internal affairs”.
Win Myint told Wang the two nations should step up “coordination” on regional and international issues. He also said Myanmar was looking to Beijing for continued support on its government-led peace process with ethnic armed groups in the northern part of the country that borders China’s Yunnan province.
Wang, who was in Myanmar on a two-day trip, also met State Counsellor Suu Kyi, Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, and military chief Min Aung Hlaing.
During talks with Suu Kyi on Saturday, Wang urged the government to push forward infrastructure projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor – part of Beijing’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative.
Neither side mentioned the Myitsone dam, a Chinese-funded hydropower project that has been stalled since 2017 because of strong local opposition. But Suu Kyi said the country was “fully capable of dealing with Myanmar’s own problems”, according to the Chinese foreign ministry statement.
Wang’s trip came as Beijing steps up its political and economic engagement with Myanmar. In July, the two sides completed a feasibility study into a railway line from their border to the city of Mandalay. Beijing also pledged to contribute US$1 million to fund Myanmar’s government-led peace process with armed rebel groups during a recent visit by China’s special envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang, The Irrawaddy reported last month.
Fan Hongwei, a professor at Xiamen University’s Research School of Southeast Asian Studies, said Wang’s visit to Myanmar could also pave the way for a possible trip by President Xi Jinping next year, which marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties.
Xi has not been to Myanmar since he took office in 2013, and Premier Li Keqiang last visited in 2014.
Fan said China would be keen for Myanmar to maintain stability, especially in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya conflict is centred.
During his meeting with minister Kyaw Tint Swe, Wang said China was willing to continue providing assistance to Myanmar to carry out repatriation and resettlement of refugees.
“A stable Rakhine state is crucial to Bangladesh, China, India and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor,” Fan said.
Long-running conflict near the border had complicated ties between the two countries, Fan said. Last month, government forces reportedly exchanged fire with the Kachin Independence Army near Nam San Yan district, just 15km from the Chinese border.
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