NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — China's foreign minister said Sunday that the international community must help fight poverty and promote development in Myanmar's Rakhine state, which has seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee amid a military crackdown.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments after meeting in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, with the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as its president, Htin Kyaw, and its powerful military chief, Min Aung Hlaing.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine for neighboring Bangladesh since late August, when the military launched what it called "clearance operations" in response to insurgent attacks. The refugees say soldiers and Buddhist mobs attacked them and burned their villages to force them to flee.
The campaign has been described by the United Nations as "ethnic cleansing" and drawn widespread outrage from the international community. China, a long-standing friend of Myanmar during the Southeast Asian country's isolation from the West, has been helping shield Myanmar from the criticism.
Wang said at a news conference Sunday that China has a "three-stage plan" to solve the Rohingya crisis.
"First is to have a cease-fire and to restore order and stability, so the people could stop running away and live in peace," Wang said.
"In the second stage, all parties should encourage and support Myanmar and Bangladesh to strengthen exchanges, to find a way to solve this issue through consultation on the basis of equality," he said.
The third stage, he said, is for the international community to help develop Rakhine.
"Rakhine state has rich resources but develops them inadequately," Wang said. "We call on the international community to help the region get rid of poverty and increase investment. ... China is willing to help and play its part."
Suu Kyi, who as Myanmar's leader has drawn harsh criticism amid the crisis that has damaged her image as a democracy activist and human rights campaigner, lauded the relationship between China and her country.
"China and Myanmar are very much different in size and power, but when it comes to mutual understanding, the two countries are friends with the same values," she said.
On Saturday, Wang told reporters in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, where he met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, that the Rohingya crisis should be solved bilaterally between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and should not involve outside parties.
On Monday, Myanmar hosts a meeting of Asian and European ministers at which the Rohingya issue is expected to be prominent.