YANGON — Myanmar military chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing praised China as an “eternal friend” and thanked it for countering international pressure on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis during a visit to Beijing.
During a meeting with members of China’s Central Military Commission and Joint Staff Department chief Gen. Li Zuocheng on Tuesday, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar regards China as “an eternal friend” and “a strategic partner country,” according to a statement from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief.
“Myanmar is thankful of China as a good neighbor for its correct stance and standing against the international community over the Rakhine State issue,” he said.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape a military crackdown triggered by coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The United Nations called the military’s actions a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Last year, China voted against the U.N. Human Rights Council’s move to establish a body to investigate possible genocide in Myanmar. Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the Rohingya issue should not be “complicated,” “expanded” or “internationalized” because it was in essence an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is in Beijing at the invitation of Gen. Li Zuocheng for talks with leaders of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and to tour training schools, factories and other sites. The visit comes two weeks ahead of Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to China to attend the second Belt and Road forum, which is scheduled to start on April 26.
According to the statement, Gen. Li Zuocheng discussed cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces and between their international liaison departments.
“There is a need to promote cooperation in five areas — medical cooperation, trade promotion with industries, and international cooperation,” he said, also adding border security and peace and stability.
The general said any group that hurts bilateral relations would not be tolerated and stressed the need to share security information and strengthen cooperation between their armed forces.
Yangon-based political, ethnic affairs and China analyst U Maung Maung Soe said the Myanmar military chief’s trip highlighted both his understanding that China has a key role to play in fostering peace in northern Myanmar and his appreciation for China’s power to veto any moves by the U.N. Security Council to hold Myanmar to account over the Rohingya crisis.
“Due to Western sanctions, the Myanmar army is unavoidably relying on the People’s Liberation Army to build a standard army and for weapons procurement,” he said.
“We will see more collaborations between the two armed forces in the future,” he added.
Traveling with Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing are Lt. Gen. Than Tun Oo, Lt. Gen. Soe Htut and senior military officials from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. They first travelled to Kunming on Monday and had a meeting with Yunnan Province Communist Party Secretary Chen Hao. That afternoon in Beijing, they were greeted by officials from the Office for International Military Cooperation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
The Myanmar military chief also met Song Tao, head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. According to the statement, they exchanged views on Myanmar’s development, strengthening cooperation between the countries and their armed forces, the Myanmar military’s role in the country’s peace process and China’s development assistance to the country.
This is Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s fifth visit to China since becoming commander-in-chief in 2011.