China wants closer ties with Myanmar’s military to help protect regional peace and security, a senior Chinese general told the visiting head of the southeast Asian country’s army.
China and Myanmar have had close diplomatic and economic ties for years, including increasingly in the strategically important oil and gas sectors, and China has offered its support to its southern neighbour, also known as Burma, throughout a crisis over its treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.
More than 623,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State, most to neighbouring Bangladesh, since a Myanmar military crackdown in response to attacks on the security forces by Rohingya insurgents in August.
The United States on Wednesday for the first time called the Myanmar military operation against the Rohingya ‘ethnic cleansing’ and threatened targeted sanctions against those responsible for ‘horrendous atrocities’.
Meanwhile, The US labelling on Rohingya Muslims is unhelpful and could aggravate the situation, Russia’s ambassador to the southeast Asian nation said, criticising ‘excessive external intervention’.
Rights groups have accused the military in mostly Buddhist Myanmar of carrying out mass rape and other atrocities during a ferocious military sweep launched in late August in retaliation for attacks by Rohingya Muslim militants in Rakhine State.
The military operation amounted to ‘ethnic cleansing’, the United States said on Wednesday, echoing an accusation first made by top UN officials in the early days of the humanitarian crisis.
‘I don’t think that it will help to solve this problem,’ Russian ambassador Nikolay Listopadov said in an interview in Yangon, when asked about the US move.
‘On the contrary, it can aggravate the situation, throw more fuel,’ he said in English, citing concern over how the Buddhist community in Rakhine would react to such a designation.
This month, Russia and China agreed to a UN Security Council statement urging Myanmar to ‘ensure no further excessive use of military force’ and expressing ‘grave concern over reports of human rights violations’, but they have opposed tougher steps and further pressure on Myanmar.
‘We are against excessive external intervention, because it won’t lead to any constructive results,’ Listopadov said. ‘Just pressure and blaming and accusing - it simply won’t work.’
Moscow’s approach was for the Rakhine issue to be solved by ‘political means, political dialogue,’ he added, without elaborating.
Meeting in Beijing, Li Zuocheng, who sits on China’s Central Military Commission, which runs its armed forces, told Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that China’s development and prosperity were an important opportunity for Myanmar’s development, China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.
‘In the face of a complex and changeable regional security situation, China is willing to maintain strategic communication between the two countries’ militaries,’ Li was cited as saying in the statement issued late on Wednesday.
China wanted greater contacts between the two armed forces and deeper training and technical exchanges and to promote border defence cooperation to ensure peace and stability along their common border, Li added.
China has been angered by fighting between Myanmar’s military and autonomy-seeking ethnic minority rebels close to the Chinese border in recent years, which has at times forced thousands of villagers to flee into China.
The Chinese ministry made no direct mention of the Rohingya issue in the statement.
China built close ties with Myanmar’s generals during years of military rule, when Western countries imposed sanctions on Myanmar for its suppression of the democracy movement.
The United States and other Western countries have stepped up engagement with Myanmar since the military began handing power to civilians in 2011, and especially since former democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a 2015 election.
But an international outcry over Myanmar’s violations of the rights of the Rohingya has raised questions in Western countries about that engagement.
Rights group Amnesty International has called for a comprehensive arms embargo against Myanmar as well as targeted financial sanctions against senior Myanmar military officials.
China’s defence ministry cited Min Aung Hlaing as thanking China for its support in helping Myanmar ensure domestic stability.
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