China’s Visiting FM Vows to ‘Stand by’ Myanmar Junta in Global Arena

By The Irrawaddy 3 May 2023

China said its foreign minister’s visit to military-ruled Myanmar reflects its support for the country in the international arena, where the regime has been condemned for its coup and subsequent atrocities against its own people.

Foreign Minister Qin Gang held talks with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on Tuesday, becoming the first top-level Chinese government official to meet with the regime leadership since the coup in 2021. He also met with Myanmar’s former dictator Than Shwe.

Myanmar has been engulfed in violence since the military takeover sparked a nationwide armed uprising against junta rule. The regime has been shunned by most of the international community for frequent atrocities perpetrated on its own civilians.

However, Myanmar’s giant neighbor to the north, China, has been joined by Russia in refusing to condemn the takeover as both countries have strategic geopolitical and economic interests in Myanmar. The two countries have instead provided diplomatic protection at the UN, where China has pledged to support the junta “no matter how the situation changes”. Both countries also supply arms to the military regime.

Meeting with the junta chief on Tuesday, Qin Gang said his visit reflected not only good relations between their countries but also “reveals that China stands by Myanmar in the international arena,” according to a statement issued by Min Aung Hlaing’s Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services.

China’s foreign ministry said the purpose of the visit was to follow up on outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s trip to Myanmar in January 2020, deepen cooperation, and support Myanmar’s efforts to maintain stability, revitalize the economy, and realize sustainable development.

China is a major investor in Myanmar and places great importance on mines, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure projects that will give it access to the Indian Ocean. The projects include the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) scheme to connect Kunming in southwest China with Myanmar’s major economic hubs – linking first with Mandalay in central Myanmar, then forking east to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine State.

Some Chinese investment projects have been stalled since the coup, while others have resumed. On Tuesday, Qin signalled that almost all China-backed projects in Myanmar will resume soon, affirming that Beijing was committed to accelerating development of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, as well as agricultural and other projects.

Politically, China has backed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s mediation efforts on Myanmar and said the international community should promote the implementation of ASEAN’s peace plan, which calls for an immediate end to the violence, dialogue among parties and other steps. The plan, known as the Five Point Consensus, was adopted in 2021 but has been largely ignored by the junta.

The Chinese foreign minister also paid a visit to Min Aung Hlaing’s predecessor, 90-year-old former dictator Than Shwe.

Qin told Than Shwe that China had always been a good neighbor, friend and partner, supporting Myanmar in maintaining stability and promoting development, according to Xinhua.

The former dictator said he appreciated China’s neighborly friendship and its strong support for Myanmar’s socio-economic development, the Chinese state media agency reported.

This was the first time since the coup that China reported its officials’ contact with the former dictator.

The Chinese Communist Party’s director-general for liaison, Peng Xiubin, met Than Shwe in April but the meeting was not publicized.

On the eve of his visit to Myanmar, Qin met with the UN’s Special Envoy for Myanmar and said the international community should support all parties in Myanmar and resume the process of political transition through political dialogue to bring peace.