A high-ranking defense official from Myanmar visited Beijing for talks this week. Vice Senior General Soe Win, Myanmar’s deputy commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces and army commander-in-chief, and Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the PLA General Staff, led the second strategic and security consultation between their two countries on Monday. Soe Win also met with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.
According to Chinese media, a main topic under discussion was border security. Violent clashes between armed ethnic rebel groups and Myanmar’s military caused turmoil near the China-Myanmar border this spring. Tens of thousands of refugees – estimates ranged from 30,000 all the way up to 100,000 – crossed from Myanmar into China to escape the violence.
The fighting spilled across the border as well, with a number of bombs landing in Chinese territory. In March 2015, an air strike by the Myanmar Air Force accidentally hit a sugarcane field in China’s Yunnan province, killing five Chinese citizens. In response, China’s Defense Ministry dispatched jets to the border to “track, monitor, warn and chase away” Myanmar Air Force fighters. General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, warned that China’s military “will take resolute measures to protect the safety of Chinese people.”
Myanmar’s government later apologized for the incident after a joint investigation by the two sides.
China is particularly keen to make sure that the events of spring 2015 don’t repeat themselves. In the consultation with Soe Win, Sun said that both countries must “jointly protect the peace and stability of the region.” Chang made the same point in his talk with Soe Win, according to Xinhua.
The two sides also discussed more general topics pertaining to their bilateral relationship. Sun told Soe Win that China and Myanmar have long enjoyed the “healthy and stable” development of their military relationship, and said that both sides should keep up close communication and coordination, strengthen mutual support, and deepen practical cooperation.
In the meeting with Chang, Soe Win said that Myanmar is willing to beef up both “strategic communication and practical cooperation with Chinese armed forces” (in Xinhua’s words). Yet, as a recent Foreign Policy article pointed out, Myanmar’s military is moving away from its historic reliance on China, though it remains one the the top three destinations for Chinese arms exports.
Chang, meanwhile, emphasized China’s hope for “a smooth and timely general election.” Myanmar is scheduled to hold its historic general elections on November 8. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to perform well, a huge reason why China has been more active in reaching out to Suu Kyi and the NLD after years of enjoying good relations with Myanmar’s military rulers.
Myanmar’s military refused to recognize the results of the 1990 elections, which the NLD won in a landslide. But General Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces previously told BBC that he will respect the results, “whoever wins.” He also pledged that the military is “committed” to helping make sure that the elections are “free and fair.”