Photo/Illutration Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang speaks during the forum titled Chinese Modernization and the World held at The Grand Halls in Shanghai, April 21, 2023. (AP Photo)

BEIJING--China’s foreign minister called for stability and a crackdown on cross-border criminal activity along the country’s border with Myanmar, during an unusual visit to the volatile region on Tuesday.

The 2,129-kilometer (1,323-mile) border runs through densely forested mountains and has long been notorious for drug smuggling into China from the “Golden Triangle” region where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet.

The United Nations says the production of opium in Myanmar has flourished since the military seized power in 2021, with the cultivation of poppies up by a third in the past year as eradication efforts have dropped off and the faltering economy has led more people toward the drug trade.

During his visit, Foreign Minister Qin Gang said local Communist Party and government departments, the People’s Liberation Army, police and civilian bodies should join in “strengthening the border defense system.”

Qin called for improvements in “maintaining distinct and stable borders, and severely cracking down on cross-border criminal activities.”

“It is necessary to coordinate border management, border trade development, and bilateral relations,” he was quoted as saying in a ministry news release.

Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups has also occasionally flared along the border, sending refugees and sometimes mortar fire into China.

China has sought to maintain contacts with all sides, although it has been criticized for expressing unequivocal support for the junta after it said it would back Myanmar “no matter how the situation changes.”

Myanmar has been wracked by violence since the army’s overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was met with massive public opposition, which security forces quashed with deadly force, in turn triggering widespread armed resistance.

Despite the security challenges, China has sought to encourage legal trade between the sides and recently reopened border crossings after closing them for more than 1,000 days as part of strict COVID-19 control measures.

During his visit to the Wanding-Ruili crossing point, Qin promoted the concept of a China-Myanmar economic corridor to aid business and other development on both sides, the Foreign Ministry said.