Myanmar’s Suu Kyi to Make First Official Visit to China

myanmar-assk-letpadaung-march-2013.jpg Aung San Suu Kyi (R) speaks with a Chinese official during her tour of the Letpadaung copper mine project, in Monywa, March 14, 2013.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will make her first official visit to China next month, a senior member of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party said Monday.

NLD Central Executive Committee member Win Htein confirmed the Nobel laureate’s plans to travel to Myanmar’s northern neighbor in December, though he was unable to provide details of who she would meet with during the visit.

“Apart from saying that there will be a visit to China, I cannot say anything else,” Win Htein told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“She will be going in December,” he said, adding that more information would be forthcoming.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily press conference in Beijing that no details of Aung San Suu Kyi's visit could be provided as yet.

But she stressed that China’s government has close relations with all political parties in Myanmar, including the NLD, and that such ties benefit the interests of both countries.

Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed an interest in visiting China, but has insisted that an invitation be extended directly from Beijing. She has declined several invitations from semi-official organizations, according to local reports.

The opposition chief, who has stated her desire to become Myanmar’s president if restrictions barring her from doing so are removed from the constitution ahead of next year’s elections, has also spoken out about the need to forge stronger ties with China.

Waning influence

China is one of the largest investors in resource-rich Myanmar and was a major supporter of the country during its isolation under military rule.

But Beijing has seen its influence wane since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration came to power in 2011 and set Myanmar on a path of democratic reform, prompting Western nations to lift sanctions and reengage with the country.

Months after taking power, Thein Sein put on hold plans to build the U.S. $3.6-billion, Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin state following public opposition mainly over its environmental impact. Aung San Suu Kyi was one of the project's most vocal opponents.

But she also faced strong criticism from local residents last year after a committee she headed recommended the resumption of a Chinese-backed copper mine that had been suspended amid mass protests.

Her committee had said the expansion of the Letpadaung copper mine should be allowed to continue so as not to discourage future foreign investment and provoke tensions with China, triggering outrage from activists who called for a complete halt to the project.

Courting Myanmar

Some observers have suggested that China may be trying to court Myanmar again in order to counter growing American influence in Southeast Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Nov. 14, during a six-day trip that also includes stops in China and Australia, the White House said Tuesday.

The visit will mark his second to Myanmar since becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel to the country in 2012.

Chinese diplomats have maintained frequent dialogue with Myanmar’s opposition since Thein Sein became president and the NLD has sent more than four delegations to China in the last year on official invitations, according to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal.

In February of this year, China’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ai Ping visited NLD headquarters in Yangon, becoming the first high-ranking Chinese official to meet with Myanmar’s top opposition officials in more than two decades, the report said.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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