BEIJING (AP) — China has urged Myanmar to ensure security along their common border following attacks on river shipping and inflows of refugees fleeing fighting with ethnic minority militias, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand began joint Mekong River patrols in December after 13 Chinese sailors were killed along a section of the river flowing through the Golden Triangle region, which is notorious for drug production and trafficking.
Members of Myanmar's Kachin ethnic group also have fled across the border amid fighting between militias and the army.
"It's in both countries' interests to maintain border peace and stability," China's chief government adviser Jia Qinglin was quoted as saying at Thursday's meeting with the speaker of Myanmar's lower house of parliament, Thura Shwe Mann, in Beijing.
"China respects Myanmar's sovereignty and territorial integrity and sincerely hopes Myanmar will find peaceful means to appropriately resolve issues of ethnic reconciliation and protect the long-term peace and order of the China-Myanmar border region," he said.
China was a loyal diplomatic ally and source of arms and investment for the Myanmar long-ruling junta, but ties have soured in recent months after the military established a nominally civilian government and opened contacts with the West.
One major sign of Myanmar's change of course was the abrupt suspension of a heavily criticized dam project that would have provided hydroelectric power to China's southwestern province of Yunnan.
Jia did not mention any sources of friction by name, but said China-Myanmar relations face "unprecedented opportunities, but also challenges."
Myanmar has released political prisoners, eased some censorship and rushed to sign agreements with major ethnic rebel groups fighting for independence, although many abuses continue.
Tens of thousands of Kachin refugees crossed over the porous, hilly border with China after fighting broke out in June 2011, some settling in a series of makeshift camps. Most are believed to have either returned home or moved in with relatives on the Chinese side.
A spokesman for Yingjiang county, home to many of the camps, said numbers had dropped considerably and no arrivals had been seen for some time.
"Most of them returned to Myanmar after a while. We haven't seem many of them coming here recently," said the official, who like many Chinese civil servants, would give only his surname, Shang.
(This version CORRECTS that Thura Shwe Mann is Myanmar's lower house speaker.)