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International relations

China backs Myanmar on Rohingya response with eye on Biden

Foreign Minister Wang woos Southeast Asia with vaccines and economic aid

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, meets with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Jan. 11. Wang also will visit Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.   © Myanmar President Office via Reuters

YANGON/BEIJING -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised Beijing's support on Myanmar's handling of ethnic conflicts while meeting with the country's top officials, as part of China's efforts to shore up ties with neighbors ahead of the U.S. presidential handover.

Wang met with President Win Myint and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw on Monday during his multiday tour of Southeast Asia. The trip is seen largely as an effort to extend Beijing's influence in the region, with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden expected to intensify pressure on China over human rights and other issues once he takes office Jan. 20.

China will do what it can to help resolve the ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, Wang said. Myanmar faces criticism from the West and from international organizations over the violence against its Rohingya Muslim minority. Military attacks on the Rohingya resulted in 700,000 refugees who fled the country in 2017, and Myanmar faces armed ethnic groups in various regions as well.

Win Myint told Wang that Myanmar "will continue to support China's position on issues related to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang," China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Wang has said that China will provide 300,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to Myanmar.

The two sides also discussed investments related to China's Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative. Ahead of Wang's trip, China and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a feasibility study for a rail link between Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, and the Indian Ocean port city of Kyaukphyu.

China is involved in a large-scale port development project in Kyaukphyu and hopes eventually to connect the port to the Chinese province of Yunnan by rail.

Wang visits Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines before returning home Saturday. He is expected to offer cooperation on vaccines and the economy in these countries as well.

"The new U.S. government may ratchet up efforts to seduce relevant countries [around the South China Sea] to reduce or abandon cooperation with China," according to a recent opinion piece by the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times. "Vaccine cooperation will likely be high on Wang's agenda."

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