BEIJING (Reuters) - China has told Myanmar to better secure their joint border across which thousands of refugees have been fleeing to escape fighting since last year between the Myanmar government and ethnic minority rebels.
A 17-year-old ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the Myanmar's most powerful rebel groups, broke down last June, sending Kachins fleeing to tent settlements in Yunnan province on the other side of the long border with China.
"Maintaining the peace and stability of the Chinese-Myanmar frontier region concerns the common interests of both countries," China's Foreign Ministry quoted senior official Jia Qinglin as telling visiting Myanmar lower house speaker Thura Shwe Mann.
"China ... sincerely hopes Myanmar will find a peaceful way to appropriately resolve problems with ethnic reconciliation and will protect the long-term peace and stability of the China-Myanmar border region," Jia was quoted as saying by the ministry website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
China officially denies the existence of the refugees who are an embarrassment to the government which enjoys close ties with Myanmar and has stood by it for years in the face of Western sanctions.
Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the energy-rich country to build infrastructure and hydropower dams.
But China now faces the risk of losing some of its influence to the West which has suddenly turned more friendly to Myanmar after the government there relaxed some of its grip and freed political prisoners.
The EU and the United States have made peace deals with ethnic minority rebels a pre-requisites for lifting sanctions. Some groups have fought the government since shortly after independence from Britain in 1948.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Chris Buckley, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)