Is China Betting on a Suu Kyi Presidency?

Myanmar, Burma, The Irrawaddy, China, Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles before delivering the annual Godkin Lecture at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sept. 27, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — China seems to have softened its stance toward opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party amid a democratic transition in Burma that could see the former political prisoner one day elected president.

More visible efforts have been made by China in recent months to reach out to Burma’s biggest opposition party, which many expect will beat out the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in elections scheduled for 2015.

In December, a 10-member delegation from the NLD led by Nyan Win, the party secretary and a close confidant of party leader Suu Kyi, traveled to China at the invitation of the Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs, a semi-official Chinese organization.

The visit by the NLD members was the fourth of its kind last year, and came as both sides seek to enhance engagement ahead of parliamentary elections in 2015, according to analysts. Following the polls, the new Parliament will select Burma’s next president.

Chinese Ambassador to Burma Yang Houlan told The Irrawaddy this week that China stands ready to engage with all of Burma’s political parties, including the NLD, as long as they are willing to help further the sound development of relations with China. He also assured that China would continue to maintain inter-party exchanges with the NLD in future.

“Myanmar-Chinese friendship and cooperation will not change fundamentally, but the way to deal with it has to be reviewed as there are new actors involved,” said former Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win in a meeting on the recent developments of Burma’s reform last week. “Previously it was easy because there was only the government, but today we are practicing multi-party democracy.”

Meanwhile, Chinese state mouthpiece the Global Times published an interview with Yang on Oct. 21 of last year, in which the ambassador said his embassy would like to arrange a visit for Suu Kyi to China “at a convenient time for both sides.”

Though no concrete date has been set and Yang said Suu Kyi’s visit is “still out of the schedule,” the ambassador acknowledged that given her international profile and popularity among Burma’s people, an invitation from China was only a matter of time.

A retired deputy director general at Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kyee Myint, told The Irrawaddy that understanding sentiment toward China among the Burmese people was one of Beijing’s most important challenges. “The government of China has more capacity to control its own people, especially its business people, but China cannot control Myanmar’s people and their wishes,” he said.

Yang too stressed mutual respect between the two nations, adding that China would honor Burma’s democratic process and would not interfere in its internal affairs.

Suu Kyi has expressed a willingness to visit China in the past, but she has insisted that the invitation should come from the Chinese government. She has previously declined invitations that came from semi-official Chinese organizations.

The Burmese democracy icon Suu Kyi’s relations with China are a relatively new development. For decades, the Chinese government refrained from any formal contact with Suu Kyi or her party, with her strong pro-democracy stance at odds with China’s own record of human rights abuses under a one-party communist regime.

Burma has undergone seismic political changes since Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who sat at the top of the country’s military regime, officially stepped down to make way for his hand-picked successor, President Thein Sein. The latter took office in March 2011 and has since introduced democratic reforms to the nation’s formerly authoritarian political system.

Thein Sein early this year said he supported changing the country’s Constitution to allow “any citizen” to become president, an apparent reference to Suu Kyi, whose political ambitions are constrained by a military-drafted Constitution that bans her from running for president.

However, Than Shwe is considered to still wield influence among leaders of the quasi-civilian government, and the retired dictator in October was reportedly “concerned about the ongoing political process,” according to Shwe Mann, a member of the former regime and current speaker of Parliament. That, and a shrinking window in which to pass constitutional amendments that would then need to be ratified by a national referendum, have cast doubts on the viability of a Suu Kyi presidency.

7 Responses to Is China Betting on a Suu Kyi Presidency?

  1. It’s all bull when China said it does not want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Burma. There is very little or no evidence to support that. We have been through party to party, state to state dichotomy for decades since our independence so why should we believe China. The leaders may have change but their chauvinist Han culture has not. Daw Suu should never compromised when it comes to her political integrity. She is now man on the elephant no need to stoop down to man in the gutter lying with the pigs.

  2. It’s all bull when China said it does not want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Burma. There is very little or no evidence to support that. We have been througih party to party, state to state dichotomy for decades since our independence so why should we believe China. The leaders may have change but their chauvinist Han culture has not. Daw Suu should never compromised when it comes to her political integrity. She is now man on the elephant no need to stoop down to man in the gutter lying with the pigs.

    • Absolutely. By supporting dictators, China had interfered our affairs. Between the preys and the preyed, China sided with the preys for decades. Can China say China is free from justice? China is the symbol of injustice today. In Sudan, China has dark image. In Myanmar, China has darker image. To the N Koreans, China is the Satan who eats human’s flesh. China is what all about. Beijing is covered by smog even in the winter time. Think about summer time. China is HELL. Who care how much they make money. Hell is hell.

  3. Only crooks are joining USDP. Real people with human spirits will join NLD and ethnic parties. Suu Kyi still is our beloved and trusted person. She is a human. She has many weaknesses as a human being but she is way better person to lead us than a combination of all USDP members. China is trying to woo her now. China is about to be born again.

  4. George Than Setkyar Heine

    The people of Burma are AWARE of CHINA’S PLOY to TURN BURMA into a PROVINCE of CHINA like the British DID in 1886.
    HUGH INFLUX of CHINESE HORDES, no thanks to Than Shwe and his military junta, and MONOPOLIZING the ECONOMY of the country via ROBBING the COUNTRY’S VAST NATURAL RESOURCES in cohorts with the MILITARY OWNED UNION OF MYANMAR ECONOMIC HOLDING PTY. LTD. (Myitsone Dam Project, rail, roads, pipelines etc.) among many business enterprises owned by ethnic Chinese in Mandalay and other major cities in upper Burma including in Rangoon as well are PROVING the FACT.
    Since day one the Chinese communists have their HIDDEN AGENDA – annex Burma as a province of China – behind the back of Than Shwe led military junta and his clerk Thein Sein today.
    The current commander of the Burma Army – Min Aung Hlaing – was chosen by China after Than Shwe PURGED/REPLACED Gen. Thura Myint Aung . The whereabouts of Gen. Thura Myint Aung and his family as well are still unknown until today PROVED the FACT.
    Myitsone Dam Project is the DEATH KNELL for the IRRAWADDY in particular and Burma in later and future. The Chinese project sits less than 100 kms away from the Sagaing Fault Line.
    Most importantly, the UWSA allied with Shan rebels in the north CLAIMING the Wa State as its FIEFDOM/ENTITY (an independent state under the jurisdiction of the UWSA only) is SIMPLY a CHALLENGE and THREAT on the National Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the Union of Burma no less.
    Hence, Suu Kyi should RENDER her UTMOST CAUTION/DISCRETION and CAREFUL CONSIDERATION OVER THE MATTER – VISIT BEIJING – while the ethnic Chinese led UWSA holds SWAY in the Wa State and RUNNING WILD while PRODUCING and TRAFFICKING ILLICIT DRUGS and MANUFACTURING WEAPONS/AMMUNITION as well on Burma’s soil with IMPUNITY until today, coupled with the SPECTER of a NATIONAL CALAMITY/DISASTER MUCH WORST THAN THE HOLOCAUST UNLEASHED on the JEWS by the Nazis (Germans) during World War Two in Europe on the advent of an EARTHQUAKE PRONE and INEVITABLE VISITING/HAPPENING/ DESCENDING on Burma as well given the site (Myitsone Dam) SITTING JUST 100 kms. from the Sagaing Fault Line not to mention the DAM PROJECT SERVING as a CHIP/THREAT or RANSOM for the Chinese communists to HOLD SWAY over Burma’s POLITICAL, ECONOMICAL and SOCIAL PICTURE of the country on the long run as the OPERATING and RUNNING of the Myitsone Dam Project and others would be UNDER CHINESE JURISDICTION for 65 years at least.
    BEWARE of the YELLOW PERIL Suu Kyi, I say!

    • Yes. Suu Kyi better send clear message that she does not like communism. Lukewarm position is what we do not want to see. Tell the Chinese Communists that we the Myanmar people do not want to associate with. It is not the persons but the policy. We have no problem with the Chinese but we do not like communism.

  5. It is much sensitive and delicate issue for Aung San Su Kyi to give clear message to PRC that she didn’t like communism. In politics, or anywhere, we can say whether we like a particular political system or not, but having to deal with PRC is inevitable whether we like communism or not, as China is the second largest economy in the world and communist party in China is the single ruling body in China, plus Myanmar share a big chunk of its border with China. Let’s be realistic enough that we have to deal with PRC, whether we like communism or not. The point to consider is how we are going to formulate our strategy over relationship with China, what will be our foreign policy when it comes to deal with countries like China.

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