BEIJING — China wants closer ties with Burma’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, to help protect regional peace and security, a senior Chinese general told the visiting head of the Southeast Asian country’s army.
China and Burma have had close diplomatic and economic ties for years, and China has offered its support to its southern neighbour throughout a crisis over its treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Burma’s Rakhine State, most to neighbouring Bangladesh, since a Burmese 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 Burmese military’s operation against the Rohingya “ethnic cleansing” and threatened targeted sanctions against those responsible for “horrendous atrocities.”
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 Burma’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 Burma’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 Burma’s generals during years of military rule, when Western countries imposed sanctions on Burma for its suppression of the democracy movement.
The United States and other Western countries have stepped up engagement with Burma 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 Burma’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 Burma as well as targeted financial sanctions against senior Burmese military officials.
China’s Defence Ministry cited Min Aung Hlaing as thanking China for its support in helping Burma ensure domestic stability.