Chinese Foreign Minister to Meet With Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Ahead of ICJ Genocide Case

By Nan Lwin 6 December 2019

YANGON—Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will make a two-day visit to Myanmar at the invitation of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The visit comes just before the State Counselor’s departure next week to contest the genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands. This has prompted speculation that the Chinese foreign minister will discuss the forthcoming hearings in The Hague and give suggestions to his Myanmar counterpart.

Wang has played a central mediation role between Myanmar and Bangladesh in the Rohingya repatriation process since 2017, attending key meetings between the two countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Thursday that Foreign Minister Wang, who is also state councilor, will visit Naypyitaw from Dec. 7-8 at the invitation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the spokesperson did not mention further details regarding the agenda or the reason for the visit.

“When it comes to the Rohingya issue, China has always shown their strong support for Myanmar,” political analyst U Maung Maung Soe told The Irrawaddy.

“Myanmar is highly likely to discuss with China how the country has prepared for the lawsuits, and China will likely give Myanmar some tips for the hearings as well,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

He added that China does not want to see Myanmar get in trouble, as the country is strategically and geographically important for China’s agenda and its sphere of influence in the region.

According to sources with knowledge of the meeting, Wang and the State Counselor will likely discuss development projects related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and attempt to finalize agreements on the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State and cross-border economic cooperation zones, among other issues.

China and Myanmar signed a framework agreement in November to implement the Kyaukphyu SEZ, which will give China access to the India Ocean.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Myanmar next year as his plan to visit the country in 2019 has yet to materialize.

As of Friday, the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) had yet to make an official statement regarding the State Counselor’s invitation to Wang. The Irrawaddy reached out to the MOFA spokesperson but they were not available.

The Gambia has filed a lawsuit against Myanmar at the ICJ accusing it of genocide. In late November, the Myanmar government announced that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will lead the country’s legal defense team to the ICJ to contest the genocide accusation.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape military operations that the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar military denies the allegations, insisting the crackdown was a response to coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Despite allegations that the treatment of the Rohingya and the military’s operations amount to genocide and war crimes, Beijing has continued to offer strong support to Myanmar.

In April, Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing praised China as an “eternal friend” during a visit to Beijing and thanked it for countering international pressure on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.

Wang visited both Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017, after the situation escalated in Rakhine state. After Wang’s visits, China endorsed a three-point plan calling for an end to the conflict in Rakhine and a resolution to the repatriation process.

At that time, Wang said China is willing to play a role in properly resolving the issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In 2018, China voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s move to establish a body to investigate claims of genocide in Rakhine.

Wang said at the time that the Rohingya issue should not be “complicated,” “expanded” or “internationalized,” saying instead that it is an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In September, Myanmar, Bangladesh and China agreed to establish a tripartite working group mechanism to evaluate the Rohingya repatriation process on the ground.

The formation of the group was part of a three-point consensus reached at an informal trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Arranged by China, the meeting focused on ways to move the Rohingya repatriation process forward.

With Chinese mediation, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to an earlier four-point consensus in June 2018. At the same time, China agreed to assist in the economic development of Rakhine State, following assertions by the Myanmar government that economic development will bring stability to the state.

Wang said that since 2018, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh have also held three informal foreign ministers’ meetings to discuss the repatriation process. He said that the parties made progress at each meeting and that all sides had a chance to discuss their concerns.

He said all parties should further strengthen communication and consultation and push for substantive progress on the repatriation issue as soon as possible.

In August, during a meeting in Beijing with Myanmar’s Minister for the Office of the State Counselor Kyaw Tint Swe, Wang said the Chinese government is paying close attention to the situation in Rakhine State and opposes multilateralization and politicization of this issue.

Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2018 with the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help with the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of displaced Rohingya.

Though the Chinese government has pushed several times to accelerate the repatriation process and claimed meetings were making progress, attempts to implement the repatriation program have failed repeatedly and Myanmar and Bangladesh blame one another for the delay.

Human rights groups have drawn attention to the fact that Rohingya are resisting repatriation out of fear for their safety. The rights groups have warned that without legal protections such as citizenship, Rohingya refugees will continue to face persecution in Myanmar.