Chinese Foreign Minister to Visit Myanmar for 1st Time Since Coup

By The Irrawaddy & AFP 29 June 2022

China’s foreign minister will travel to Myanmar this weekend for a regional meeting, a junta spokesman said Tuesday, in what will be Beijing’s highest-profile visit since the military seized power.

China is a major arms supplier and ally of the junta and has refused to label the power grab that ousted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government last year a coup.

Wang Yi will visit Myanmar to attend a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP.

The meeting will be cohosted by the country’s military regime in the UNESCO World Heritage town Bagan in Mandalay Region.

The July 2-5 meeting will be joined by foreign ministers from China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Sakura hotel, Heritage hotel and Aureum Place Hotel—all of which are owned by businesspersons close to the regime—will serve as venues for the meeting.

The spokesman said he was “not sure” whether a meeting between Wang and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would take place.

The China-backed forum gathers countries that share the Mekong River—known in China, which controls its headwaters, as the Lancang.

Wang was last in Myanmar in January 2021. On that occasion he met with the country’s civilian President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the military chief Min Aung Hlaing. A few weeks later, Min Aung Hlaing staged a coup against the civilian government.

With Western governments imposing sanctions following the coup and a violent crackdown on dissent, the junta has turned increasingly to allies including China and Russia.

In April, Beijing said it would help safeguard Myanmar’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity “no matter how the situation changes”.

Wang’s visit to Myanmar comes in the wake of attacks by anti-regime armed resistance groups on Chinese projects in the country for harboring regime soldiers, who have killed civilians and torched villages nearby.

Recently, Chinese-owned Wanbao Mining Company in Sagaing Region was attacked with explosives and its power cables were blown up. The company condemned the attacks but didn’t comment on the sheltering of regime troops in its compound.

The Chinese foreign minister’s visit also comes on the heels of the regime’s recent transfer of Myanmar’s detained democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to solitary confinement in a prison from house arrest.

The issue is likely to be raised if Wang meets regime chief Min Aung Hlaing during the visit, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has urged the junta to return Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to the home where she was originally detained. China has been tightlipped about the issue but has supported ASEAN’s earlier initiatives to bring Myanmar back to normalcy.

The junta is otherwise increasingly isolated on the international stage, with Cambodian leader Hun Sen the only foreign leader to visit since the putsch.

In February, Myanmar’s foreign minister was barred from attending a gathering of his counterparts in ASEAN over a lack of progress in defusing post-coup violence.

That same month, a United Nations expert on Myanmar said China and Russia were continuing to supply the military with weapons, including fighter jets and armored vehicles.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.