By Simon Lewis
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will soon visit Beijing, state media said on Monday, as the southeast Asian nation appears to draw closer to its northern neighbor, China, amid global criticism over an exodus of Rohingya refugees.
Myanmar has bristled at pressure from Western nations over its armed forces’ brutal response to August attacks on security posts by Rohingya Muslim militants in the western state of Rakhine.
The United States and the United Nations have accused Myanmar of “ethnic cleansing” and called for the military to be held accountable over allegations of killings, rape and arson that sent more than 620,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
China, however, has backed what Myanmar officials call a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine, and stepped in to prevent a resolution on the crisis at the U.N. Security Council.
News of Suu Kyi’s visit comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese military leaders welcomed Myanmar’s powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing last week and pledged closer cooperation.
The state-run daily Global New Light of Myanmar said Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi would “soon” depart to attend a Communist Party of China-hosted forum of world political leaders in Beijing.
Suu Kyi’s spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for more details, but the meeting begins on Thursday and runs until Dec. 3, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.
Myanmar is in the international spotlight this week as Pope Francis makes the first visit by a head of the Roman Catholic church to the Buddhist-majority country.
He has previously spoken out about the treatment of minority Muslims to whom Myanmar denies citizenship, but some Christians fear doing so in the country could provoke a backlash.
Many in Myanmar refuse to recognize the name Rohingya, preferring to call them “Bengalis” to suggest they belong in neighboring Bangladesh.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)