BANGKOK — China’s top diplomat arrived on Saturday on his first visit to Myanmar since the military took power last year to attend a regional rally that the government said was a recognition of his legitimacy and opponents protested as a violation of peace efforts.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, along with colleagues from Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, will attend a meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Group in the central city of Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The grouping is a China-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 alter the flow and cause ecological damage. China has built 10 dams along the upper part of the Mekong, the part it calls the Langcang.
Military government spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw on Friday that the presence of foreign ministers at the meeting was a recognition of Myanmar’s sovereignty and government.
He said ministers will sign memoranda of understanding and contracts. He didn’t work out.
It is unclear whether Wang would meet senior general Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government.
Myanmar’s military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021. It was quickly met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations and sparked armed resistance that some UN experts now characterize as civil war.
According to a detailed list prepared by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 2,053 civilians have been killed in the crackdown on the resistance movement.
Wang was last in Myanmar to meet with Suu Kyi just three weeks before the army ousted her.
China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and a longtime ally. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar’s mines, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure and is the main arms supplier along with Russia.
Many in Myanmar suspect China is backing the military takeover, and Beijing has refused to condemn the military’s seizure of power. China says it has a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries.
The foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow government, who opposes the ruling military council, protested the Bagan meeting, saying such efforts in conjunction with Myanmar’s military violate the will of the people and undermine community building.
The statement said holding the meeting of foreign ministers in Myanmar is in direct contradiction to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations peace plan.
Though Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, it has done little to implement the plan and its opposition has led other ASEAN members to bar government leaders from attending key ASEAN meetings.
Since the army took power, Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang has visited Myanmar twice, and Wang has met his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, twice in China.