China promises to support Myanmar peace talks with rebel groups
China promised to continue to support Myanmar’s peace talks with ethnic minority groups and to boost its coronavirus aid on the first stop of the foreign minister’s six-day tour of Southeast Asia.
During Monday’s meetings with President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Wang Yi also urged Myanmar to speed up construction work on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor – a key element of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“China will support the new Myanmar government in revitalising the economy, improving people’s livelihoods and accelerating the industrialisation process. We hope that both sides will work together to effectively implement the agreement on building the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and promote connectivity at the western, northern and eastern ends of the corridor,” Wang told the president, according to a report by state news agency Xinhua.
China shares more than 2,100km (1,300 miles) of border with Myanmar’s north, an area that has long been troubled by the fighting between government and ethnic minority rebel groups, making China a crucial player in peace talks between the government armies and ethnic armed groups.
Wang said Beijing would do whatever it could to support the peace negotiations, adding: “China supports Myanmar government’s commitment to national reconciliation in the country … and will continue to provide assistance within its capabilities, as well as upholding justice and safeguarding Myanmar’s legitimate rights and interests in the international arena.”
In response, Win Myint told Wang that Myanmar was keen to cooperate with China on vaccine distribution and would continue to support Beijing’s positions on Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, according to Xinhua.
The trip by Wang, the first foreign minister to visit Myanmar since its ruling National League for Democracy secured a landslide election victory in November, is widely seen as a show of support as Beijing seeks to consolidate its position in Southeast Asia in the face of its intense rivalry with the United States and other regional powers such as Japan and India.
China is now the second-largest foreign investor in Myanmar, after Singapore. During President Xi Jinping’s state visit last January, the two sides signed 33 memorandums of understanding, agreements, exchange letters and protocols, 13 of which were related to infrastructure – most notably, the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone along the Bay of Bengal coast.
But progress has been slow, partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Myanmar authorities said a commercial viability assessment was needed to ensure that the projects would be in line with the country’s own development plans.
Wang told Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, that Beijing was willing to help implement a five-year plan to advance key projects, including the Kyaukpyu deep water port, a border economic cooperation zone and the controversial New Yangon City project, a massive infrastructure project near the country’s largest city which will cover an area twice the size of Singapore.
According to news website The Irrawaddy, the budget for the project was cut from US$1.5 billion to US$800 million in July.
In November, Myanmar’s industry ministry said the China Communications Construction Company would compete with nine other companies – including firms from India, Singapore, France and Taiwan – to build the project.
Suu Kyi said Myanmar was willing to “jointly push forward the projects” and called for help in increasing agricultural exports to China, which have also been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last week, China announced that the checkpoint in Ruili, the largest between the two countries, would open around the clock for a week after it was reported that thousands of truckloads of fruit had been stuck there since mid-December.