China’s top diplomat on Saturday arrived on his first visit to Myanmar since the military seized power last year to attend a regional meeting that the government said was a recognition of its legitimacy and opponents protested as a violation of peace efforts.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will join counterparts from Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in a meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation group in the central city of Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The grouping is a Chinese-led initiative that includes the countries of the Mekong Delta, a potential source of regional tensions due to an increasing number of hydroelectric projects that are altering the flow and raising concerns of ecological damage. China has built 10 dams along the upper stretch of the Mekong, the part it calls the Langcang.
Military government spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw on Friday that the attendance of the foreign ministers at the meeting was a recognition of Myanmar’s sovereignty and its government.
He said the ministers will sign memorandums of understanding and contracts. He did not elaborate.
It’s unclear whether Wang would meet Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government.
Myanmar’s military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021. It was quickly met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations and triggered armed resistance that some U.N. experts now characterize as civil war.
According to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 2,053 civilians have died in the crackdown on the resistance movement.
Wang last visited Myanmar to meet with Suu Kyi just three weeks before the military ousted her.
China is Myanmar’s biggest trading partner and an old ally. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar’s mines, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure and is its major arms supplier, together like Russia.
Many in Myanmar suspect China of supporting the military takeover, and Beijing has refused to condemn the army’s power grab. China says it follows a policy of non-interference in other countries’ affairs.
The foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow government, which opposes the ruling military council, protested the Bagan meeting, saying any such efforts in partnership with Myanmar’s military violate the will of the people and undermine community building.
The statement said that holding the foreign ministers’ meeting in Myanmar is in direct opposition to a peace plan by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Myanmar, although a member of ASEAN, has done little to implement the plan and its stonewalling led fellow ASEAN members to block government leaders from attending major ASEAN meetings.
Since the military seized power, Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang has visited Myanmar twice, and Wang has met his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, twice in China.