Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi received a pledge of support from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in Beijing an upcoming peace conference that will bring together Myanmar government representatives, the national military, and armed ethnic groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, is in China on a five-day official visit to meet with top leaders to discuss bilateral relations and matters of mutual interest.
Her visit comes two weeks before the Myanmar government holds the Panglong Peace Conference in Naypyidaw in an attempt to end decades of civil wars and foster permanent peace.
While Chinese leaders have been pressing for a solution to the stalled Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has been concerned about getting China on board for the peace negotiations she is spearheading.
Xi assured Aung San Suu Kyi that China “will continue to play a constructive role in promoting Myanmar's peace process and work with the country to safeguard peace and stability in their border areas,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters in Beijing before her meeting with Xi that “China will do everything possible to promote our peace process,” according to an Agence France-Presse report.
She added that China’s friendship is important given that the two countries share a border along which there are many armed ethnic groups, the report said.
On Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang agreed to work towards a solution of the stalled $3.6 billion dam project in northern Myanmar funded primarily by Chinese energy interests.
Former Myanmar president Thein Sein had stopped the project temporarily in September 2011 amid protests over its predicted environmental impact.
Multiple skirmishes between Myanmar’s ethnic armies and the government military have occurred along the country’s border with China, necessitating the country’s help with resolving the civil wars.
In early 2015, Myanmar’s national army launched an offensive against the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which had tried to retake the rugged, mountainous region of Shan state, after losing a similar regional conflict in 2009.
The ethnic Kokang region in the northern part of Shan state shares a border with Yunnan in the east and had historically been under Chinese imperial control for several centuries.
The clashes sent tens of thousands of refugees across the border into Yunnan province where they struggled with limited food and supplies in refugee camps.
The MNDAA along with the Arakan Army (AA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which have also been involved in skirmishes with the Myanmar military in the Kokang region, did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the previous government last October.
On Thursday, however, the three ethnic armies said they are prepared to join in the Panglong Conference at the end of this month if they receive an invitation.
Likewise, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has agreed to participate in the Panglong Conference. The UWSA, Myanmar’s largest nonstate army, is led by ethnic Chinese commanders and controls the Wa Special Region in Shan state. It has previously received support and weapons from China.
China’s exposure to the strife next door was underscored again this month when fighting broke out in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state between army troops and a regiment of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), forcing residents of the Sadon and Kan Pike Tee border regions to flee to safety across the border into China, Naw Ja, a Sadon resident, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The residents—most of whom are from the Lisu ethnic minority group—live in villages near Myanmar-China border marker No. 6., he said.
“Sparse fighting has been going on for three or four days already near a KIA station between border markers Nos. 5 and 6,” he said.
“We heard that the villagers fled to China because of the fighting,” Naw Ja said. “Senior citizens and children have been fleeing since last week. Only a few have stayed behind to guard their property.”
Because of the fighting in Myanmar, Chinese soldiers are said to be guarding areas along the border, he said.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.