China’s foreign minister touts ‘friendship’ on Myanmar visit

Qin Gang is the highest-ranking Chinese official to meet Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing since his power grab two years ago.

Qin Gang and Min Aung Hlaing. They are sitting on golden chairs in front of a golden sculpture. The walls are red.
Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (right) and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang during their meeting in Naypyidaw [Myanmar Military Information Team via AFP]

China’s foreign minister has met Myanmar’s top general in Naypyidaw, hailing the “friendship” between the two nations and pledging to boost ties as violence escalates in the Southeast Asian country two years after a military coup.

Qin Gang’s meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday makes the diplomat the highest-ranking Chinese official to meet Myanmar’s coup leader since he snatched power from the elected government in February 2021.

China is a major ally and arms supplier of the internationally isolated military and has refused to condemn Min Aung Hlaing’s takeover.

The coup, which deposed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, prompted widespread peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with deadly force. Thousands of people have been killed in the crackdown, leading to armed resistance throughout the country that the military has been unable to quell.

The Chinese CGTN broadcaster said Qin told Min Aung Hlaing that Beijing attaches “great importance” to its “friendship” with Myanmar and said the two men agreed to “further promote comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries”.

“China advocates that the international community should respect Myanmar’s sovereignty and play a constructive role in helping it achieving peace and reconciliation,” Qin said, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Myanmar’s state-run MRTV quoted Qin as saying that his visit “not only indicates the friendship of the two countries but also China’s stance on Myanmar on the world stage”.

For his part, the general told Qin he appreciated Beijing’s “objective and fair stance on Myanmar-related issues and welcomes China to play a greater role”.

Major arms supplier

China has strategic geopolitical and economic interests in Myanmar, its southern neighbour, and is one of the few large nations that has maintained good relations with its military since the coup.

Along with Russia, Beijing is a major arms supplier to Myanmar’s military. It is also Myanmar’s biggest trading partner and has invested billions of dollars in the neighbouring country’s mines, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure.

China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier that Qin’s visit would follow up on the outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s visit in January 2020, deepen cooperation and “support Myanmar’s efforts to maintain stability, revitalize the economy, improve people’s lives, and realise sustainable development”.

Qin’s meetings in Naypyidaw also included a meeting with Than Shwe, a 90-year-old former general who ruled Myanmar for nearly two decades until he stepped down in 2011, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule that ended with Min Aung Hlaing’s coup.

During the meeting, Qin praised Than Shwe’s “important contribution to the development of China-Myanmar relations”, while the former general thanked Beijing for its “strong assistance to Myanmar’s economic and social development”.

Qin also made an unusual trip to the China-Myanmar border on Tuesday, where he called for stability and a crackdown on cross-border criminal activity.

The 2,129km (1,323-mile) frontier runs through densely forested mountains and has long been notorious for drug smuggling into China from the “Golden Triangle” region where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet.

The United Nations says the production of opium in Myanmar has flourished since the military seized power in 2021, with the cultivation of poppies up by a third in the past year as eradication efforts dropped off and the faltering economy lured more people into the drug trade.

Qin’s visit to Myanmar came a day after he met Noeleen Heyzer, the UN’s special envoy for Myanmar, in Beijing.

Qin told Heyzer that international society should respect Myanmar’s sovereignty and support all parties in Myanmar within the constitutional and legal framework to bridge differences and resume a political transition through dialogue, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Qin also said the Myanmar issue was complex and there was no “quick fix,” it said.

Heyzer called for dialogue between the opposing sides in Myanmar and said the will of the country’s people should be respected.

She added that the UN appreciated China’s “important role in promoting the settlement of the Myanmar issue” and called on Beijing to make “positive contributions” to the country’s peace, stability and development.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies