China’s foreign minister met Myanmar’s top general in Naypyidaw. He praised the “friendship” between the two nations and pledged to strengthen ties as violence escalates in the Southeast Asian country two years after a military coup.
Qin Gang’s meeting with senior general Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday made the diplomat the highest-ranking Chinese official to meet the Myanmar coup leader since he took power from the elected government in February 2021.
China is a key ally and arms supplier to the internationally isolated military and has refused to condemn Min Aung Hlaing’s takeover.
The coup, which ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sparked widespread peaceful protests that were suppressed with deadly force by security forces. Thousands of people have been killed in the crackdown, sparking armed resistance across the country that the military has been unable to quell.
China’s CGTN broadcaster said Qin told Min Aung Hlaing that Beijing attaches “great importance” to its “friendship” with Myanmar and said the two men agreed to “further promote a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries”.
“China calls for the international community to respect Myanmar’s sovereignty and play a constructive role in achieving peace and reconciliation,” Qin said, according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry.
Myanmar’s state-run MRTV quoted Qin as saying that his visit “indicates not only the friendship of the two countries, but also China’s position on Myanmar on the global stage”.
For his part, the general told Qin that he appreciated Beijing’s “objective and fair stance on Myanmar-related issues and welcomes China to play a bigger role.”
Major arms supplier
China has strategic geopolitical and economic interests in Myanmar, its southern neighbour, and is one of the few major countries to maintain good relations with its military since the coup.
Along with Russia, Beijing is a major arms supplier to Myanmar’s military. It is also Myanmar’s largest trading partner and has invested billions of dollars in the neighboring country’s mines, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure.
China’s foreign ministry said earlier that Qin’s visit would follow up on the results of President Xi Jinping’s visit in January 2020, deepen cooperation and “support Myanmar’s efforts to maintain stability, revitalize the economy, improve people’s lives and achieve sustainable development”.
Qin’s meetings in Naypyidaw also included a meeting with Than Shwe, a 90-year-old former general who ruled Myanmar for nearly two decades until he stepped down in 2011, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule that ended with Min Aung Hlaing’s coup. .
At the meeting, Qin Than praised Shwe’s “significant contribution to the development of China-Myanmar relations”, while the former general thanked Beijing for its “strong assistance to Myanmar’s economic and social development”.
Qin also made an unusual trip to the China-Myanmar border on Tuesday, calling for stability and a crackdown on cross-border criminal activity.
The 2,129 km (1,323 mi) border runs through densely forested mountains and has long been notorious for drug smuggling into China from the “Golden Triangle” region where the borders of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand converge.
The United Nations says opium production in Myanmar has been booming since military takeover in 2021, with poppy cultivation rising by a third over the past year as eradication efforts eased and the faltering economy lured more people into the drug trade.
Qin’s visit to Myanmar came a day after he met Noeleen Heyzer, the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar, in Beijing.
Qin told Heyzer that international society should respect Myanmar’s sovereignty and support all parties in Myanmar within the constitutional and legal framework to bridge differences and resume a political transition through dialogue, China’s official news agency Xinhua said.
Qin also said the Myanmar issue was complex and there was no “quick fix”.
Heyzer called for dialogue between the opposing parties in Myanmar and said the will of the country’s people must be respected.
She added that the UN appreciated China’s “important role in advancing the resolution of the Myanmar issue” and called on Beijing to make “positive contributions” to the country’s peace, stability and development.