Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi should "talk democracy" to China's leaders during her visit this week to Beijing, a former top Communist Party official said on Thursday.
The 1991 Nobel Laureate is visiting Beijing from June 10-14 in her capacity as chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), for inter-party exchanges with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
China was a close supporter of the military junta that kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years, and Myanmar’s transition since 2011 to a quasi-civilian government and partial democratization has caused some wariness in Beijing.
Bilateral ties have been further strained by an ongoing ethnic conflict in the remote Kokang region of Shan state, near the Chinese border, which has spilled over into neighboring Yunnan on a number of occasions, causing civilian deaths and injuries.
The NLD has cited the border conflict and the need to cultivate "good relations with neighbors" as reasons to make the trip, which included a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Thursday.
But Aung San Suu Kyi's status as an icon of the Myanmar democracy movement and Nobel laureate will inevitably call to mind China's own jailed democracy activist and 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
According to former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has remained under house arrest at his Beijing home since his release from a seven-year jail term in the wake of China's 1989 pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi should play her role as "respected world citizen" to the full, while in China.
"As an outstanding leader of the Myanmar democracy movement and a Nobel peace prize winner, she is the same as Liu Xiaobo," Bao, a former top aide to late former premier Zhao Ziyang, told RFA on Thursday.
"She has been very successful at initiating the democracy movement in Myanmar, and I hope that she will ... share those experiences with the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
"[I hope she will] talk about how Myanmar began on its path towards democracy."
He said China's ruling party could learn much from the democracy movement in Myanmar.
"There are lessons they could draw from it," Bao said, adding that there are still "big differences" between the Chinese and Myanmar regimes.
"I hope they have a good talk, and that they will tell the Chinese leadership about Myanmar's experiences with democracy, and that the Chinese leaders will listen to their views," he said.
"Then they should think about what conclusions they could draw regarding China.This is more important than anything," said Bao, who was recently forced to leave Beijing on an enforced "holiday" with state security police during the 26th anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.
A moral obligation
Bao's view was echoed by U.S.-based exiled dissident Yang Jianli on Thursday.
"Aung San Suu Kyi can make a powerful statement by urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to release Liu," Yang wrote in an opinion article in The Washington Post.
"By doing so, she can add her voice to those of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Czech leader Václav Havel, the Dalai Lama and countless other champions of freedom," Yang said.
"She might not be fully successful, but she has a moral obligation to try," he wrote.
His views were echoed by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"Some items on the to-do list seem quite straightforward, such as calling for the immediate release of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo," HRW China director Sophie Richardson wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.
Suu Kyi has been "disturbingly reticent" on the fate of the ethnic Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar, Richardson wrote, in spite of massive forced displacement and segregation against them that has turned them into shipboard refugees, Richardson said.
"Suu Kyi’s silence on human rights has damaged her credibility as a leader," she wrote.
"While in Beijing she could retake the initiative by diplomatically distinguishing her ideas and policies from those of an autocratic, predatory government."
Xiao Jiansheng, editor of the Hunan Daily newspaper, said Beijing's chief concern currently lies with economic ties with Myanmar, however.
"There won't be any political changes [as a result of this trip]; the important thing is economic ties, where we may see some breakthroughs," Xiao said.
He said China's proposed high-speed rail link to Myanmar, as well as cross-border negotiations over water resources and power projects, are at the top of Beijing's list for discussion with its smaller neighbor.
"Because Myanmar is a [more] democratic country, it has to listen to the opinions of its people; it can't force these projects on them," Xiao said.
"So it's hard to predict whether there will be gains from this trip ... I think it's unlikely, because she doesn't hold much trust towards the [Chinese regime]," he said.
"We will see if that can be improved."
China's official news service Xinhua quoted Xi as telling Aung San Suu Kyi that "China and Myanmar are close, friendly neighbours," citing a 65-year cooperation that had "yielded fruitful results."
"China always looks at the China-Myanmar relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective," Xi said.
"We hope and believe that the Myanmar side will also maintain a consistent stance on the China-Myanmar relationship and be committed to advancing friendly ties, no matter how its domestic situation changes," he added, in an oblique reference to ongoing political reforms in Myanmar.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.