Implications of Wang Yi’s Myanmar visit

In the first week of July, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar to attend the seventh Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The meeting was focused on promoting the “Solidarity of Peace and Prosperity” among the member countries, which are Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The ministers recommended a five-year cooperative plan that needs to be approved by the LMC leaders at their next meeting. The LMC joint statements call for enhanced cooperation in agriculture customs, disaster management, and exchanges among civilizations.

Wang Yi’s visit was his first to Myanmar since the military coup on February 1, 2021. Coincidentally, last year, Wang was in Myanmar a couple of weeks before the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government was overthrown. In a similar coincidence, Suu Kyi was sent into solitary confinement about a week prior to Wang’s visit to Myanmar this year.

Numerous reports also indicate that the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) has not been able to contain the spread of armed insurrections opposing the coup regime. In response, the Tatmadaw has scaled up its crackdown on dissidents, which was also evident in its announcement that it will execute an “88 Generation” leader and a former National League for Democracy legislator for their alleged involvement in the armed insurrection.

So Wang Yi’s visit came at a time when the Tatmadaw’s legitimacy was being increasingly contested in domestic politics and on international platforms.

It is possible to argue that Wang was not in Myanmar for a bilateral meeting but was participating in a meeting pertaining to the regional cooperative framework. However, the fact that he attended the LMC meet was perceived by opposition groups in Myanmar as an attempt to bolster the legitimacy of the Tatmadaw.

Moreover, a Tatmadaw spokesman reportedly noted that the “gathering was a recognition of Myanmar’s sovereignty and its government.”

It is well known that since the coup, the Tatmadaw has not been welcome at ASEAN leaders’ meetings. However, the LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, by engaging the Tatmadaw leadership, demonstrated a continental-maritime divide among Southeast Asian countries in their responses to developments in Myanmar.

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