China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called on Myanmar’s junta leaders to talk to their opponents amid concerns over escalating violence and deteriorating human rights in the Southeast Asian country.
Wang is in Myanmar for his first visit since the junta overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Su Kyi in February 2021. His trip is the most high profile by a Chinese representative since leader Xi Jinping met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in 2020 to discuss China-backed projects including a controversial dam and an economic corridor.
“We encourage all parties in Myanmar to engage in political dialogue within the constitutional and legal framework and restart the process of democratic transformation,” Wang said in remarks published by his ministry. He also pledged support and reiterated hopes for Myanmar’s “political and social stability.”
“China pays close attention to the situation in Myanmar and stands ready to continue to play a constructive role in its own way,” he said. “We will jointly support Myanmar’s efforts to restore its economy, improve people’s livelihood and ensure the rights and interests of people at the grass-roots level.”
Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin thanked China for its “selfless assistance to Myanmar’s national development,” according to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Wang arrived at the Nyaung Oo Airport in Bagan city on Sunday and was welcomed by senior military leaders and other state officials.
He will lead a Chinese delegation to attend a top foreign ministers’ meeting with his counterparts from around the region including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, though it is not yet clear if he will meet Min Aung Hlaing.
China remains one of Myanmar’s few international allies. It has refused to condemn the 2021 coup in which the junta ousted Suu Kyi, who is now being kept in solitary confinement in prison – raising concerns among global watchdogs and rights groups.
Earlier in April, Beijing pledged its backing for junta leaders, saying its support would remain “no matter how the situation changes.”
China is also one of Myanmar’s biggest trading partners, investing billions of dollars in mining, oil and natural gas developments in the resource-rich country, and together with Moscow, Beijing supplies weapons to the junta military, according to the United Nations.
Wang’s visit comes as the country plunges into further turmoil. Not only is deposed leader Suu Kyi in prison, but the planned state executions of two men, veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy and former National League of Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zayar Thaw, have prompted an outcry from the United Nations, who called it a “blatant violation to the right to life, liberty and security.”
Ian Chong, a political science professor and regional security expert from the National University of Singapore, said it is in Beijing’s interests for Myanmar to be politically stable.
“It looks like to me that Beijing is trying to broker some sort of settlement in Myanmar, or at least look like it is doing so, and its approach seems to be to provide the junta with some of the legitimacy it craves,” Chong said.
“Whether this will change the junta’s behavior in relation to the civil war their coup started is doubtful, but it could provide Beijing with more leverage over the military.”