Military Chief Asks Visiting Chinese Diplomat for Continued Support

By The Irrawaddy 8 November 2018

YANGON—Myanmar’s military chief told a visiting senior Chinese official that he hoped China would further promote its stand on political reforms in Myanmar and foster good relations between political forces, the public and ethnic groups in the country.

Song Tao, the head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, has been visiting Myanmar since Tuesday at the invitation of State Counselor’s Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe.

During his stay in Naypyitaw, the Chinese official met with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, military chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and the chairman of the country’s main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), U Than Htay.

Song Tao’s trip to Myanmar is his third since 2016. During his first trip, he held talks with several key leaders including former military supreme leader Senior-General Than Shwe, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, former President U Thein Sein, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson U Win Htein and representatives of the USDP, according to the official statement from the Chinese Embassy at the time.

In his meeting with the Myanmar military leader, the Chinese official said the political role of Myanmar’s military (or Tatmadaw) was important for stability and development.

“The Communist Party of China emphasizes relations with the Myanmar Tatmadaw,” he said, according to the military-run Myawady Daily.

During the meeting, the senior general called on China to provide assistance necessary for Myanmar’s development, the paper added.

China has played an active role in Myanmar’s politics and economy. When Western nations, including the U.S. and those in the European Union, imposed sanctions and condemned Myanmar’s former military regime, China was the pariah government’s main backer and largest investor.

And when Myanmar was condemned by other nations on the UN Security Council over the exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh in the face of alleged atrocities committed by security forces, China continued to support Naypyitaw by blocking measures initiated by other member countries.

On the country’s peace process with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guo-xiang has urged the groups to attend the government’s peace conferences, including groups still engaged in fighting with the Tatmadaw and who have refused to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). In May 2017 and July this year, Sun flew members of non-signatory groups from Kunming, China to Naypyitaw on a chartered Chinese plane. Many representatives of the EAOs said they attended solely because China pressured them to do so.

China has also provided Myanmar with aid and investment, much of it to help build strategic infrastructure projects including oil and gas pipelines, ports, and dams as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

With several clear strategic interests in Myanmar—ranging from stability on its shared border to access to the Indian Ocean to a wide variety of economic interests—Beijing has played a key role in Naypyitaw’s internal security affairs and in peace negotiations with ethnic armed groups. It has both a direct and indirect influence on the dynamics of conflict and peace in northern Myanmar. Beijing supports the Myanmar government and its peace process, but at the same time provides shelter, weapons and other assistance to some of the EAOs, according to a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

On Thursday, Special Envoy Sun made a donation of USD300,000 on behalf of the Chinese government to benefit Myanmar’s peace process, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center said.