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Aung San Suu Kyi

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar as Beijing takes proactive approach to country’s new government

Visit comes as Beijing seeks to bolster ties and restart stalled infrastructure projects

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 3:26pm

Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Myanmar counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, as part of a trip Beijing says shows its proactive approach to improving ties with the country.

The two foreign ministers met for about an hour in the country’s capital. Afterwards, Suu Kyi said that Wang’s visit, so soon after her party took the reins of government, was “an expression of friendliness between the two countries”.

“The relationship between our two countries socially and economically is very important as we are neighbours,” she told a joint press conference.

“Our government policy is to have friendly cooperation with the whole world and I hope our neighbouring countries will join hands with us in implementing our work on peace and human development.”

Despite Myanmar dam blockage, China confident about ties with Suu Kyi government

Their talks came as Chinese state-controlled commodity trader Guangdong Zhenrong Energy won approval from the Myanmar Investment Committee to build a US$3 billion refinery in the southeast coastal city of Dawei in partnership with local parties. The refinery will have a capacity of 100,000 barrels-per-day.

Wang is the first high-ranking Chinese official to meet the new government led by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy since it was sworn in on March 30, ending more than half of a century of military domination.

The development has triggered concerns in Beijing that the NLD has closer ties with Japan and Western nations.

Despite the goodwill gesture, analysts said setbacks facing Chinese investments in Myanmar and the suspension of Chinese-backed projects remained a thorny issue.

Beijing is keen for the resumption of various projects, including the US$3.6 billion Myitsone Dam, the Letpadaung Copper Mine and a proposed US$20 billion railway line linking Yunan with Myanmar’s Rakhine state. These were halted amid protests by local communities who complained that the projects had few tangible benefits for them.

“The two sides must reach an agreement on how to deal with the projects. Failing to do so would affect China greatly and bring serious damage to bilateral relations,” said Lin Xixing, a professor at Jinan University specialising in Myanmese affairs.

New Myanmar government must be inclusive if it is to succeed

State-run news agency Xinhua yesterday downplayed the suspension of the projects, saying they were “no more than growing pains inevitable to two neighbours who share a long border of 2,200km”.

“China’s role in Myanmar’s future growth strategy and foreign policy is undisputable,” it said.

Alistair D.B. Cook, a research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said Beijing had to change its strategy in engaging with Myanmar after the swearing in of the new government.

“Many in the local communities felt their livelihoods were taken away, that they were given inadequate compensation and few prospects of long term alternative employment,” said Cook, adding that local communities would play a more prominent role in the nation’s affairs.

“It is therefore incumbent on investors not only to engage with central governments but also ensure that mechanisms are in place for local communities to access and influence decision-making,” he said.

Cook said since Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing last year, China had been learning how to improve its relations with Myanmar. On Myanmar’s side, a pragmatic approach was likely to pave the way for relations between the two countries, he said.

Additional reporting by Kyodo and Reuters