China’s foreign minister arrives in Myanmar with eye on stability, trade

China is Myanmar’s closest ally amid international sanctions on junta.
By RFA Burmese
2023.05.02
China’s foreign minister arrives in Myanmar with eye on stability, trade Myanmar junta leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing meets with visiting China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Naypyidaw on May 2, 2023.
Credit: Myanmar military

China’s foreign minister arrived in Myanmar’s capital on Tuesday for meetings with military junta leaders, the latest visit by a top Chinese official to the embattled nation in recent months.

The three-day trip by Foreign Minister Qin Gang follows a meeting held in Beijing on Monday with Noeleen Heyzer, the United Nations’ special envoy on Myanmar, where a possible resolution to the country’s internal conflict was discussed.

China has been Myanmar’s staunchest ally since the February 2021 military coup d’etat. Investment and trade have continued even as most Western nations have shunned the junta and despite international sanctions.

Qin Gang arrived in Naypyidaw at about 2 p.m. and immediately met with junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, a source close to the military council confirmed to Radio Free Asia. 

The foreign minister remarked that Myanmar’s internal conflict is complicated and won’t be easy to resolve, adding that China is interested in promoting stability in Myanmar because it shares a border, according to China’s state media CGTN news agency. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the foreign minister visited the China-Myanmar border, according to Chinese and Hong Kong-based news media.

Eye on the U.S.

Qin Gang was also scheduled to meet with former military leader, Than Shwe, who ruled Myanmar from 1992 to 2011. The foreign minister was scheduled to have dinner with Min Aung Hlaing Tuesday evening, the source said. 

The visit could be partly linked to Beijing’s desire to counter U.S. influence in Myanmar. In December, President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included assistance to Myanmar’s democratic forces.

Among the provisions in the act are programs designed to provide technology and non-lethal assistance to those fighting the better-equipped military – including the country’s shadow National Unity Government, anti-junta People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups and various ethnic armies.

Last month, the director of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, Peng Xiubin, suddenly arrived in Naypyidaw and met with Than Shwe and Thein Sein, the president of the country’s quasi-civilian government from 2011 to 2016. 

Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Deng Xijun, visited Naypyidaw twice in February and March and held talks with Min Aung Hlaing. He also met with several ethnic armies from northern Myanmar – across the border from China’s Yunnan province – in December 2022 and again in February.

Political stability, economic interests

“Peace and stability in Myanmar is their key interest and they have been involved in this regard for a long time,” said China-based Burmese analyst Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw. 

“The number one thing is they want to prevent the Myanmar issue from becoming a sparking point amid U.S. and Chinese tensions,” she said. “Second is economic interests.” 

China would eventually like to oversee a supply-chain market out of the 10 Southeast Asian and five East Asian countries, Hla Kyaw Zaw said.

“Myanmar is part of this process as well,” she said.

Zin Mar Aung, minister of foreign affairs for National Unity Government, told RFA that her initial comment on Qin Gang’s visit is that the international community – “including our neighbors” – shouldn’t give legitimacy to the military junta. 

“But we cautiously keep an eye on the visit and the impact of it. We hope the approach would not alienate the desire and wishes of the people of Myanmar,” she said. 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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