A senior official from China on Monday pushed the Myanmar government to forge a cease-fire agreement with rebels in Kachin state as he witnessed the signing of a bilateral “strategic” agreement and pledged a soft farm loan during his two-day visit.
State Councilor Yang Jiechi raised the issue of the Kachin conflict during talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw, according to the official Chinese Xinhua news agency.
Yang, who was foreign minister until his new appointment in March, also promised during talks with Myanmar lawmakers to deliver some U.S. $100 million in loans to aid Myanmar’s agricultural sector, which employs nearly two-thirds of the country’s population, a lawmaker told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Yang’s trip came amid a reported sharp drop in Chinese investments to Myanmar, a top Beijing ally under the country's previous military junta, and concerns in the Southeast Asian nation over its giant neighbor's influence and rising anti-Chinese sentiment.
Thein Sein, just months after his nominally-civilian government came to power in March 2011, suspended construction on the China-backed Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin state, which was to supply electricity to China, after local protests.
During his meeting with Thein Sein, Yang called for talks to continue between the government and rebels in Kachin state, which lies along the border with China, with the aim of signing a permanent cease-fire agreement, Xinhua said.
Naypyidaw signed a tentative cease-fire agreement with ethnic Kachin rebels last month following talks held inside Myanmar for the first time since fighting erupted in June 2011 and shattered a 17-year cease-fire agreement. Previous talks had been held across the border in China’s Yunnan province.
Yang pressed Thein Sein to “maintain the trend of peace talks and reach [a] cease-fire agreement as early as possible to realize eternal peace and stability in the north and China-Myanmar border areas,” the Xinhua report said.
He said that China, which is home to a large Kachin minority community, would continue to play a supportive role in the peace process.
Reformist President Thein Sein has signed cease-fire agreements with most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups since he came to power in 2011, and the temporary peace agreement with the Kachin was seen as an important step in his bid to end the country’s last major ethnic conflict.
But reports by the Kachin News Group indicate that sporadic fighting occurred earlier this month in northern Shan state between civilian militias loyal to the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Myanmar military, resulting in the unconfirmed deaths of two government soldiers.
During the two years of fighting between the KIO and the central government, an estimated 100,000 people were forced from their homes, with some 60,000 of those displaced now living in areas beyond the government’s control, according to the U.N.
Xinhua said that in his meeting with Thein Sein, Yang also called for the two countries to boost their strategic links and “[ensure] smooth implementation of major cooperation projects … to benefit local people.”
Yang witnessed the signing of the “Action Plan of China-Myanmar Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Partnership,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that Beijing “is willing to take positive consideration and try to increase the import of Myanmar agricultural products.”
Yang also met with Myanmar’s members of parliament, offering a U.S. $100 million soft loan to the country’s farming community as part of efforts to improve bilateral ties, said Win Htein, a lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Yang said in the meeting with MPs from political parties and ethnic parties that “China is interested in and is watching Myanmar's reform and development situation,” Win Htein told RFA.
“He also said that China will try to be a good neighbor to Myanmar and will lend U.S. $100 million for farmers at a low rate of interest,” he said, without providing specific terms of the loan.
Agriculture is key to Myanmar, contributing 58 percent to the county's economic growth, and making up for 48 percent of its exports, according to U.N. figures.
Beijing has invested heavily in Myanmar’s natural resources and power generation, including in deals that were agreed upon under the former military regime before recent reforms brought a wave of investment from other countries.
During his visit, Yang also held talks with Myanmar Vice President Nyan Tun, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament Shwe Mann.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.