With regional powers vying to gain influence in Myanmar, China’s government sees potential benefit in backing Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, while she faces international criticism, said Yun Sun, a scholar at the Stimson Center in Washington.
“This is basically an opportunity for China and a vulnerability of Aung San Suu Kyi,” she said. “The Chinese government says the Rohingya issue doesn’t affect us and by supporting Aung San Suu Kyi we don’t lose anything.”
“Instead we gain the potential friendship” of the government, Ms. Sun said.
The state-run Myanmar News Agency quoted China’s ambassador to Myanmar last week as saying his country supported the crackdown in Rakhine.
“The stance of China regarding the terrorist attacks in Rakhine is clear, it is just an internal affair,” said the ambassador, Hong Liang. “The counterattacks of Myanmar security forces against extremist terrorists and the government’s undertakings to provide assistance to the people are strongly welcomed.”
In another sign that China is drawing closer to Myanmar, last week it opened an interim liaison office in Naypyidaw, the remote city that was inaugurated as Myanmar’s capital in 2005. Most foreign missions have stayed in Yangon, the country’s former capital.
China’s support for the military crackdown may be partly rooted in the recent opening of a Chinese-operated oil terminal at Kyaukpyu port, in southern Rakhine. While the military’s campaign is being carried out in the north of Rakhine, China would be concerned if the violence expanded and imperiled the terminal, Ms. Sun said.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch called for targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military. It also called for new restrictions on the sale of arms to the country.
“Burmese security forces are committing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya and disregarding the condemnation of world leaders,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The time has come to impose tougher measures that Burma’s generals cannot ignore.”