(Bloomberg) -- China says its policy toward Myanmar remains unaffected by the country’s domestic situation, bolstering support for a regime that has faced multiple rounds of sanctions from the U.S. and its Western allies following a coup four months ago.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin during a meeting on Tuesday in Chongqing that Beijing would continue implementing bilateral projects in the Southeast Asian nation, Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV reported.
“China’s friendly policy toward Myanmar is not affected by changes in Myanmar’s internal and external situations and remains oriented toward the people of Myanmar,” according to readout of the meeting on the website of China’s Foreign Ministry. “In the past, present and future, China supports Myanmar to independently choose a development path that suits its national conditions.”
The regime is seeking recognition from other countries as Myanmar’s rightful caretaker government because it faces a contesting claim by a unity government set up by allies of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The meeting comes a day after China hosted foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in which Malaysia and Singapore lamented slow progress in resolving the political crisis in Myanmar.
The National Unity Government’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung, said in an open letter to Wang that the regime “does not represent the people of Myanmar.” “Attempts to legitimize it as the government of Myanmar may harm people-to-people relations between the two countries,” she wrote before the meeting in the southwestern Chinese city.
As of Tuesday, Myanmar’s security forces had killed more than 850 people and arrested nearly 6,000 others since they overthrew the democratically elected government on Feb. 1. Civilian leaders including Suu Kyi have been detained, and a renewed conflict with armed rebel groups has displaced tens of thousands of villagers.
While the U.S. has led international efforts to punish the junta, its partners in Asia have been slow to follow suit, with China blocking any uniform sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. Countries have turned to Asean -- a body founded on the principle of non-interference -- to facilitate a resolution.
China has pledged to play a constructive role by offering support to Asean, which reached a five-point “consensus” on Myanmar in April that included an “immediate cessation of violence.” It also encouraged “all parties in Myanmar to engage in political dialogue and restart the process of democratic transformation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement.
China and Myanmar agreed to expedite several projects in the pan-Eurasia Belt and Road Initiative after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw last year. There was also a concession and shareholder agreement for the development of the multi-billion dollar special economic zone and deep-sea port in western Rakhine State.
As of April, China was its second largest foreign investor behind Singapore with $3.5 billion worth of projects since the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to data from Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.
China will continue to provide Myanmar with vaccines and medical supplies, the Foreign Ministry readout said. The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has said it is open to funding projects in Myanmar even if the country does not return to democracy, the Financial Times reported last week, citing Vice President Joachim von Amsberg.
In a further sign of diplomatic support from the world’s second largest economy, army chief and de facto leader Min Aung Hlaing met with the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar on Saturday. Ambassador Chen Hai “stressed that the Chinese side has always cherished and attached great importance to the traditional friendship with Myanmar,” the embassy wrote in a Facebook post.
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