Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi met with her visiting Chinese counterpart on Tuesday in Naypyidaw, diving straight into one of her new government cabinet roles under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government.
“I assume that China’s visit to Myanmar in the first week of new government is to build a good relationship between two countries,” she told the media at a press conference following her meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is on his first official two-day visit during the new government’s first week in office.
On Monday, President Htin Kyaw, who also had originally appointed her to lead the electric power and energy and education ministries, named two bureaucrats to take on the positions, leaving her to focus on the foreign affairs and President’s Office portfolios.
Aung San Suu Kyi has also retained her political party position as NLD chairwoman.
But Aung San Suu Kyi and Wang Yi did not broach the possible restart of a controversial hydropower dam project financed by the Chinese that former president Thein Sein put on hold in 2011.
“We didn’t discuss the Myitsone Dam project with the Chinese foreign minister because I haven’t become familiar enough with the contract details,” she said. He has just visited to honor our new government.”
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, mainly because of the environmental destruction it was predicted to cause.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been one of the Myitsone Dam project’s most vocal opponents. After the NLD won national elections last November, she assured Chinese leaders at the time that she sought continued friendly relations between the two countries and welcomed Chinese investment in Myanmar, as long as investors won the trust of the Myanmar people.
Some political observers in Myanmar have said the decision about whether or not to continue the dam project will be one of the biggest challenges for the new government, given that Chinese-backed companies are the largest foreign investors in the country.
Their heavy-handed tactics in exploiting natural resources, however, have sparked vehement public opposition.
‘Above the president’
The meeting came the same day as Myanmar’s lower house of parliament approved a bill appointing Aung San Suu Kyi to the role of state counselor, a new position that some say will give her more power than the president.
The position will allow her to direct the activities of both parliament and the executive branch.
“As the separate chapters and articles were passed by the majority of lawmakers, the entire bill was approved,” said lower house speaker Win Myint.
Military deputies, who control a quarter of parliamentary seats, objected to the bill, which they said is unconstitutional.
“I submitted my proposal yesterday and said that we will support this bill if it is in accordance with the constitution and try to amend it if we need to,” said Brigadier General Maung Maung, a military deputy and member of the Bill Committee.
“This bill has not been drafted according to the constitution,” he said. “It is democratic bullying. That’s why our military MPs [members of parliament] didn’t vote in favor of this bill.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency under a constitutional clause that forbids anyone with foreign-born relatives from holding the nation’s top office, vowed to be “above the president” after the NLD won the November elections.
Both houses of parliament on Tuesday also approved Htin Kyaw’s new nominees for the ministries of electric power and energy and education, to which Aung San Suu Kyi was briefly appointed last week.
Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.