China offers Myanmar support over Rohingya issue after U.S. rebuke

BEIJING (Reuters) – China supports the Myanmar government’s efforts to protect domestic stability and approach to resolving the Rohingya issue, Premier Li Keqiang told the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence offered a strong rebuke.

Pence on Wednesday voiced Washington’s strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, telling Suu Kyi that “persecution” by her country’s army was “without excuse”.

Meeting Suu Kyi on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore, Li said China attaches great importance to its ties with Myanmar and would build on their tradition of friendship, China’s Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.

“The Chinese side supports Myanmar’s efforts in maintaining its domestic stability, and supports Myanmar and Bangladesh appropriately resolving the Rakhine state issue via dialogue and consultation,” the ministry cited Li as saying.

China is “willing to provide the relevant parties with necessary support in this regard”, he added, without elaborating.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown.

The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin returning refugees to Myanmar in mid-November. The U.N. refugee agency has said conditions in Rakhine are “not yet conducive for returns”.

China has close relations with Myanmar, and backs what Myanmar officials have called a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine.

China’s statement cited Suu Kyi as expressing thanks to China for the many times it has extended help to Myanmar, especially the constant understanding and support for the Myanmar peace process and the Rakhine issue.

A plan to begin repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar stalled on Thursday, amid protests by refugees at camps in Bangladesh and recriminations between the officials in both countries.

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