Burma’s President Set for China Trip

By Tin Htet Paing 4 April 2017

RANGOON — President U Htin Kyaw and three of his ministers will head to China on Thursday for a six-day trip to discuss political, infrastructural and trade cooperation between the two countries, the presidential spokesperson told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The President’s Office Director General U Zaw Htay said the president and his ministers—U Kyaw Tint Swe of the State Counselor’s Office, U Than Myint of the Ministry of Commerce and U Win Khaing of the Ministry of Construction—would meet their Chinese counterparts.

President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders will hold talks with U Htin Kyaw, who is visiting the country as Burma’s official head of state for the first time. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U Htin Kyaw will also visit places other than Beijing.

U Zaw Htay added that further details of the visit would be released after the trip has taken place.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government assumed office in April, China has lobbied to restart the multi-billion dollar Myitsone Dam, which was being constructed in Kachin State with Chinese backing just downriver from the confluence that forms the Irrawaddy.

A government suspension order in Sept. 2011 under former President U Thein Sein’s administration following widespread public protest stalled the project.

U Zaw Htay declined to comment on whether the controversial project would be on the agenda during the state visit. He said the Myitsone Dam is under evaluation by a commission that is assessing proposed hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River.

The commission was formed on August 12—a week before State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made her inaugural trip to China as Burma’s foreign minister.

The committee is tasked with assessing the potential environmental and social effects of any proposed project along the Irrawaddy River, as well as the possible impact on foreign investment and the wider economy.

Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament U T Khun Myat chairs the 20-member commission and State Counselor’s Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe, who will also be participating in the president’s visit to China this week, serves as vice-chairman. He also holds the same position with the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

U Htin Kyaw’s first foreign trip after taking office was to Laos last May. He then made state visits to India, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Visits of senior government officials between China and Burma have increased since the democratically elected NLD government assumed power. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the first foreign state official to visit the NLD government in April last year at the invitation of Burma’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Chinese Minister of State Security Geng Huichang visited Burma in July and Song Tao, the Communist Party’s head of International Relations, visited in August.

A joint statement from China and Burma after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit last year said that discussions during the trip included the cooperation between the two countries to ensure Burma’s national reconciliation and the strengthening of “law-based management” in the border region.

Analysts have highlighted China’s complex and critical role in Burma’s peace process.