Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has promised to provide Myanmar with 300,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine, according to the website of State Counselor and de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi.
The site said Wang also pledged during a visit to Naypyitaw this week that China will maintain momentum on a number of bilateral projects.
Wang's visit Monday came as part of a Southeast Asia tour extending through Saturday that includes Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. This was Myanmar’s first diplomatic visit since last year’s election, in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party secured a majority of seats in the legislature.
It was Wang’s fifth visit to Myanmar since the NLD first won elections in 2015. He participated in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit here a year ago, when the two countries signed more than 30 bilateral agreements.
A day before the latest visit, Myanmar and China signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct a feasibility study on a 650-kilometer railway project to link Mandalay -- Myanmar’s second-largest city -- with Kyaukphyu, a major city in Rakhine state.
The project is essential to Chinese efforts to gain direct access to the Indian Ocean, including a deep-sea port and the start of a pair of 700-kilometer oil and gas pipelines running from the border with China’s Yunnan province.
Political analysts in Myanmar said that the reasons for this visit were to congratulate the NLD on the election victory, to implement the MOU agreements signed during Xi’s visit, and to supply Myanmar with COVID-19 vaccines.
Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadita Institute, a Yangon advocacy organization, told VOA that China wants to sell COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar before other countries do.
“Myanmar first ordered a lot of COVID-19 vaccines from India,” he said, “But, China wants to sell them first.”
Myanmar’s embassy in Beijing released a statement December 31 saying Chinese vaccines would arrive early this year. According to the statement, Ambassador Myo Thant Pe met with officials from China National Pharmaceutical Group and Sinovac Biotech, Chinese vaccine producers which received emergency-use approval from Xi’s government in June.
The Chinese government and investors have donated medical aid to Myanmar during the pandemic. As of January 12, Myanmar had more than 200,000 reported COVID-19 cases and more than 2,800 related deaths.
Biggest creditor, second-largest investor
China is Myanmar's biggest creditor. Myanmar owes 40% of its $10 billion foreign debt to China. It invests in almost every state and region of Myanmar, mostly in the power sector, which accounts for 57% of total Chinese investment. Many rights groups have raised human rights concerns over China’s investment in Myanmar.
More than 50 civil society organizations sent an open letter to Xi during his visit to Myanmar in January of last year. The organizations demanded that Xi review Chinese investment projects and to follow international standards regarding respect for historical and cultural locations, and implementation of a fair border trade policy that doesn’t favor Chinese buyers or sellers.
The issue came up because of complaints at the low prices Chinese buyers were willing to pay for Myanmar fruits and vegetables.
Equality Myanmar, a human rights organization based in Myanmar, was one of the 52 organizations that addressed an open letter to Xi.
Aung Myo Min, the organization’s director, told VOA that Chinese investors “have weaknesses in following the rules and regulations.”
“That’s why we are always monitoring Chinese investment companies with human rights concerns,” he said.
Wang also met in Naypyitaw with Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, which is guaranteed 25% of the seats in the parliament. Myanmar’s chief commander raised allegations about the election, which renewed the NLD’s mandate to form the government.
Military officials said Min Aung Hlaing and Wang had discussed “flaws in voter lists” that made “the election unjust.”