PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Myanmar's opposition set for historic China visit - but Suu Kyi 'too old' to go

Invitation for under 60s only

BIO

Patrick Boehler has published on China and Southeast Asia in four languages for publications in the US, Europe and Asia. After stints with Austria's ministries of defence and foreign affairs in Vienna and Beijing, he began his reporting career in Kuala Lumpur with the Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini and, later, The Irrawaddy Magazine, a Myanmar exile publication in Thailand. He holds a doctorate in political science and has taught journalism at the University of Hong Kong. Follow him on Twitter: @mrbaopanrui
 

In an historic first, a delegation of Myanmar's leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy, will visit China next week - but leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not be joining them because the invitation was for delegates under 60 years old.

A group of 12 party delegates is the first of two party delegations to visit the Southeast Asian nation's Northeastern neighbour and largest investor from May 8 to 18, leading figures within the NLD said. Another group is scheduled to visit in June.

"We send them to China for a goodwill visit," NLD Central Executive Committee (CEC) member Han Thar Myint said. "It's only for the friendship between the Chinese Communist Party and the NLD - only that."

Three high-ranking members of the NLD confirmed the two visits, but did not say what issues would be raised by Myanmar opposition party delegates.

"We don't know the detailed programme yet," said Han Thar Myint.

Two CEC members, two members of parliament and representatives from the ethnic regions would be among the group of 12, he said. 

Phyu Phyu Thin, a member of parliament for a Yangon township and a leading Aids activist, confirmed she would be part of the group.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not join it in May, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said, adding that he didn't know whether the Nobel Peace Prize laureate would be part of the June delegation.

"If the Chinese Communist Party invites her, I think she is ready to go there," Han Thar Myint said.

"In the invitation [for the May visit], it was mentioned that the delegates should be under 60 years of age," he said. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is now 67, so she can't go there."

During a trip to South Korea in January, Suu Kyi said she hoped to visit China soon. Speculation about a visit to the country began when she did not rule out a visit during interviews with Chinese media in December 2011.

"I am not aware of a visit of Daw Suu in May," Gao Mingbo, the head of the political section of the Chinese embassy in Yangon, said in an e-mail. "I am expecting more interactions between the political forces in Myanmar and our side in the coming months."

The leading Myanmese opposition party had previously maintained a critical stance towards Chinese investments in the country, irking the Chinese government with its successful popular campaign against a massive Chinese dam project at the Myitsone confluence in Kachin State.

The opposition party later softened its stance towards Chinese infrastructure projects. 

In March, Suu Kyi, now a member of parliament, had spoken out in favour of the controversial expansion of a Chinese-run copper mine in Monywa, in north-western Myanmar - even though the Chinese operator, a joint-venture subsidiary of China's defence contractor Norinco, has alledgedly had a record of arbitrary land seizures and a disregard for the environment.

After releasing a parliamentary report on the mine, she had to face a crowd of furious locals who had been campaigning against the controversial project.

The visit by NLD delegates comes les than three weeks after China hosted members of Myanmar's other opposition parties including the Rakhine National Development Party and the Shan National Democratic Party in a ten day trip to Kunming, Qingdao and Beijing.

President Thein Sein, who just reliquinished the chairmanship of the governming Union and Solidarity Party, last met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping when he attended the Boao Forum in Sanya, Hainan, on April 5.

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