RANGOON — Chinese companies should improve their sense of social responsibility when operating in Burma, China’s Special Envoy Wang Yingfan told a group of selected Burmese opposition politicians, scholars and journalists in Rangoon on Saturday.
Wang tried to dispel grievances that have strained Burma’s relations with its biggest foreign investor, ranging from China’s role in the military conflict in Kachin State to cross-border crime and environmental protection.
The septuagenarian former ambassador to the United Nations is one of China’s most eminent diplomats. Wang has dealt with China’s hottest foreign policy topics including the handover of Hong Kong and Macao to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the country’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
His visit to Naypyidaw and Rangoon coincides with a visit by the American special envoy to Burma, W. Patrick Murphy, who has made the ethnic tensions in Arakan State the focus of his trip.
Wang praised the recently issued report on the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, which is partly run by a subsidiary of a Chinese defense manufacturer, for its detail and level of transparency. “It says clearly that there have been many shortcomings. If this project is to go ahead, both sides have much do.”
During a protest against the mine in November dozens of people, including monks, were left injured after police used white phosphorus smoke grenades to disperse the crowds. A commission chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued the report on the crackdown, the legality and environmental impact of the investment last Tuesday.
“When we signed this contract, it relied on the environmental legislation of your country at the time. Now, you have raised the environmental standards,” Wang said. “These companies should have a sense of responsibility towards society.”
“We have to prove with our acts that the contract is beneficial for both countries and both peoples, including the local population,” Wang said.
“Chinese companies have just started to go abroad,” he said. “We lack international experience and we lack relevant human capital. Chinese companies going abroad are very weak in their public relations work, but they will improve.”
Wang said that he has yet to meet representatives of Chinese companies investing in Burma. “I will try to find time to meet them when I return to China,” he said.
He denied allegations that China was artificially prolonging the civil war in Kachin State, which has re-erupted in June 2011. Wang, who chaired peace talks between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese government in the border town Ruili a week ago said that Chinese interests suffered from further hostilities. “Peace serves our interests much better,” he said.
China has hosted several rounds of talks between the two sides over the last two years. Accidental shelling of Chinese territory during the Burmese army’s Christmas offensive against the KIA had prompted a furious response by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese air force denied local reports that Burmese jets used Chinese airspace when attacking KIA positions.
“Many of our interests, including some economic projects, have suffered from the fighting,” he said. “We are among those who lost out.”
He said that China has told both sides that the war has to end. “In order to solve the conflict, fighting is unacceptable. A military solution is unacceptable.”
Wang said that China has investigated reports of supplies of armaments to the Kachin Independence Army and “dealt with the issue.”
“Neither the Chinese government nor the military will support the Kachin side to continue the war,” he said. “The providing of weapons is out of the question.”
Wang called on Burmese authorities to work more closely with China in combating cross-border crime. “We can share intelligence and take measures together,” he said.
Last year has marked a peak in arrests and seizures of smuggled goods at the border. Border police confiscated 1,143 arms and five tons of drugs in 2012, according to the Yunnan Police Security Bureau. Yunnan police said they deported 5,228 Burmese civilians and stopped 85 militiamen from entering China. Jade supply in China has dwindled after a crackdown on illegal imports from Burma.
“Are there many shady things happening in the border areas? Yes, there are. But these things are not our government’s policy,” Wang said.
“China has illegal traders, smugglers, crooks, even some big crooks that come to your country and defraud your government and companies,” he said. “China’s central government and the provincial government in Yunnan have a clear policy: We do not support any illegal behavior.”
President Thein Sein will discuss these matters with his new Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing scheduled for early April, Wang said. The visit would be Thein Sein’s third trip to the country since he assumed the presidency in March 2011. He last held talks with Xi in September, when the then Chinese vice-president called on Burma to guarantee the “smooth implementation of major cooperation projects.”
“Changes are fast, changes are momentous,” Wang said on Saturday. “The Chinese leadership supports Burma’s opening up. There are so many requests and expectations coming from the Burmese government. We pay attention to them.”
Among those who attended the meeting with Wang were the leader of the National Democratic Force, Khin Maung Swe, the National League for Democracy’s Nyan Win and former exiled activist Aung Naing Oo, who is now working at the Myanmar Peace Center. The Chinese diplomat’s repeated efforts to engage them in a conversation was for the most part met with with cordial, yet strained silence.
China’s new ambassador to Burma Yang Houlan, a career diplomat with previous postings in Afghanistan and Nepal, is set to arrive in Rangoon next week.