(Reuters) – China’s special envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang visited Myanmar last week for talks with its military rulers, as a new route spanning the Southeast Asian nation opened up connecting Chinese trade flows to the Indian Ocean.
As opposed to most Western countries that have condemned the army for ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, China has taken a softer line and said its priorities are stability and not interfering in its neighbour.
During his Aug. 21 to Aug. 28 visit, Sun met military ruler Min Aung Hlaing as well as foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Minister for the Union Government Office Yar Pyae and “exchanged views with them on the political landscape in Myanmar”, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
“We will work together with the international community to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s efforts to restore social stability and resume democratic transformation at an early date,” Wang told a regular news briefing in Beijing, when asked about Sun’s trip.
China supported Myanmar working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to implement a five-point consensus aimed at resolving the crisis and “opposes undue external intervention”, Wang said.
Opponents of Myanmar’s junta have accused China of supporting February’s military takeover that has sparked daily protests leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands displaced by fighting between the army and hastily formed militias.
Beijing has rejected such accusations and said it backs regional diplomacy on the crisis.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s National Unity Government made up of opponents of military rule did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Chinese visit.
But members of the shadow government have previously urged countries to deal with them rather than the military.
“China seems to be endorsing the junta by the way it is conducting diplomacy,” said Sai Wansai, a political analyst from the Shan ethnic minority, who said it was possible Myanmar’s other big neighbour India could decide to follow suit.
Separately, China’s embassy in Myanmar announced the opening of the new trade route linking Yangon’s port on the Indian Ocean to the Chinese border province of Yunnan and by rail onwards to Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
“Successful testing of the new Indian Ocean route is an important breakthrough in strengthening China-Myanmar trade relations,” the embassy said on its Facebook page.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)