Myanmar State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi will begin a five-day official visit to China on Wednesday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders in part to discuss a controversial Chinese-backed dam project that was suspended by the previous Myanmar government five years ago.
“She will meet the Chinese president and prime minister,” said Kyaw Zeya, director general of the Political Department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “She will leave tomorrow and return on Sunday.”
“She has planned to visit President Xi Jinping’s hometown,” he said. “We planned this trip because China invited Aung San Suu Kyi to visit to welcome the new government.”
During a news conference on Friday, Kyaw Zeya said the Myitsone Dam and the country’s peace process will be on the agenda when Aung San Suu Kyi meets the Chinese leaders, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Chinese leaders will exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, according to a report by the country’s official Xinhua news agency on Monday.
“[The visit] holds great significance to the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between both countries in the new phase,” Lu was quoted as saying, in a reference to the new Myanmar government that came to power earlier this year.
Rights group weighs in
Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Aung San Suu Kyi’s list of discussion topics could be too long.
She suggested instead that Aung San Suu Kyi use the opportunity to broach the issues of refugees displaced by fighting in Myanmar’s northern Shan State who have sought refuge in China and thousands of other refugees from northern Myanmr's Kachin state, who remain in China’s Yunnan province from a 2011-2013 conflict.
“As Aung San Suu Kyi prepares for her first trip to China since her National League for Democracy party swept Burma’s elections last November, her to-do list could be impossibly long: managing a new and delicate era in bilateral relations, development aid, the resolution of the stalled Myitsone Dam project, and disputes about management of their shared border,” Richardson said in a printed statement.
“There’s also the complex peace process involving the Burmese government, its military, and the country’s ethnic armed groups—some of them backed by China,” she said in a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi’s plans to hold a peace conference at the end of this month that includes armed ethnic groups that have been fighting along Myanmar’s northern borders with China.
Richardson also called on Aung San Suu Kyi Suu Kyi to “use her platform and pro-democracy credentials to call for the release of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from prison in China.”
Liu, a Chinese writer and human rights activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, is currently serving time as a political prisoner in a detention facility in Jinzhou, northeastern China's Liaoning province, for advocating political reforms and the end of communist single-party rule.
Previous visit to China
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, visited China last year in June and November, just before the elections that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.
At the time, Aung San Suu Kyi—who has been one of the Myitsone Dam project’s most vocal opponents—assured Chinese leaders that she wanted to continue friendly relations between the two nations and welcomed Chinese investment in Myanmar, as long as investors won the trust of the Myanmar people.
Then in March of this year, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the dam has been an “important cooperation project” and that its contract terms are still in force, Reuters reported.
A month later, Aung San Suu Kyi met visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the capital Naypyidaw during the NLD government’s first week in office, but they did not discuss the restart of the Chinese-financed dam project that former president Thein Sein put on hold in 2011.
At the time, Aung San Suu Kyi said it was because she wasn’t yet familiar enough with the contract details.
Thein Sein stopped China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), one of China’s largest state-owned electricity producers, from continuing to build the 6,000-megawatt, $3.6-billion Myitsone Dam project along the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State amid fervent opposition.
Myanmar citizens opposed it because of its predicted environmental impact, huge flooding area, dislocation of people living nearby, proximity to a geographical fault line, and unequal share of electricity output for Myanmar.
Under the investment deal, about 90 percent of the electricity produced by the dam would go to southern China’s Yunnan province.
Though Chinese-backed companies are the largest foreign investors in Myanmar, citizens also have objected to their heavy-handed tactics when it comes to exploiting Myanmar’s natural resources and dealings with locals.
In June 2014, CPI cut off food assistance to at least two families who were among hundreds displaced by the project after they backed a 100-strong march from the commercial capital Yangon to the dam site, protesting against the resumption of work there.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.