Amid Fighting, Suu Kyi’s Office Minister Pledges Border Stability with China

By Nan Lwin 28 August 2019

YANGON—Amid ongoing clashes between the Myanmar military and an alliance of ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, Minister for the Office of the State Counselor of Myanmar U Kyaw Tint Swe pledged to Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi that Myanmar “would make efforts to maintain peace and stability” in its border areas with China. 

During a Tuesday meeting in Beijing with Wang Yi, who is also China’s foreign minister, Kyaw Tint Swe thanked China for its support in promoting peace in Myanmar, according to a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar. 

Fighting has spread and intensified in northern Shan State after an Aug. 15 attack by Northern Alliance (NA) members the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on a military training academy and several police and security outposts in and around Pyin Oo Lwin Township and Naung Cho Township. 

China shares a border with Myanmar’s Kachin and Shan states, where fighting has recently broken out in areas where China and Myanmar have agreed on infrastructure projects that include trade zones and railways under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s grand plan to build a trade infrastructure network through Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Russia.

The recent fighting has decimated Myanmar’s border trade with China through the Muse and Chin Shwe Haw border trade zones. According to the commerce ministry, total trade value through the Muse border trade zone between the two countries declined from around US$5 million (7.6 billion kyats) per day before fighting began to around $700,000 per day since Aug. 19—a decline of nearly 90 percent.

Wang Yi said China firmly supports Myanmar in its efforts to advance its domestic peace process and that he expects all parties to maintain the ceasefire in northern Myanmar that was unilaterally announced and thrice extended by the Myanmar military. That ceasefire is set to expire on Aug. 31. Armed rebel groups, however, have repeatedly claimed that the military has continued to attack their posts there in direct contradiction of its own ceasefire. The Chinese foreign minister said he expects these issues to be solved through consultation to maintain peace and stability along the border.

Since 2017, China has been acting as an official peace broker between the military and NA members. China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized the rebel attacks on police and military outposts, saying they derail the country’s peace process and create instability in the region.

A statement from the Office of the State Counselor of Myanmar said, “Both side discussed gearing up cooperation and implementation of BRI projects and other cooperation that would benefit both countries.”

U Kyaw Tint Swe’s visit aimed to promote the existing friendship between the two countries, the statement said.

Wang Yi said China appreciates Myanmar’s positive stance and pragmatic measures on repatriating displaced persons from Rakhine State.

Despite international pressure over Myanmar’s human rights abuses, China said it stands stand with Myanmar on the crisis in the western state of Rakhine. 

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following the Myanmar military’s clearance operations against Rohingya militants there in 2017.

Though the Bangladeshi government had set Aug. 22 as the date to begin repatriating a list of 3,450 displaced Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State, not a single one showed up on the day. 

Wang Yi said China is paying close attention to the situation there and opposes multilateralization and politicization of this issue.

According to the State Counselor’s Office, U Kyaw Tint Swe said Myanmar appreciates China’s long-term assistance on repatriation and promised to continue resolving the Rakhine State issue through bilateral channels and friendly cooperation.

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