China Premier Won't Meet Suu Kyi During Burma Visit, Will Offer Aid

By Ben Blanchard 7 November 2014

BEIJING — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will not meet Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi when he visits the country next week, but will announce a new aid package and series of deals, officials said on Thursday.

China and Burma have traditionally had close ties, with Burma relying on its powerful northern neighbor for economic and diplomatic support when it was under wide-reaching Western sanctions, before embarking on political reforms four years ago.

Beijing has watched nervously since then as the new government has courted the United States, though it has also been keen to reach out to Suu Kyi.

This week, a senior official at Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy said she would visit China next month, though she later said that trip was not yet confirmed.

Li will be visiting the country to take part in a regional summit, and is also paying a formal visit to the country, but has no plans to meet Suu Kyi, said deputy Chinese foreign minister Liu Zhenmin.

“Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Myanmar is very short. Mainly it’s about bilateral arrangements with President Thein Sein. The other meeting is with the head of the Myanmar Parliament. We have no other meetings,” Liu told a news briefing.

“As for the Myanmar side announcing Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China, we have not received confirmation about this. We’ve only heard the reports from Myanmar. I’m not certain what the next arrangements there will be.”

Since taking power in March 2011, Myanmar’s reformist government has sought to decrease its dependence on China, which was cemented during years of Western sanctions put in place in response to human rights abuses carried out by the ruling junta.

China, a major investor in Burma, has been stung by criticism it is only interested in the country for its natural resources and that its investment has come at a huge cost, with criticism focused on a gas and oil pipeline and hydroelectricity projects.

In 2011, President Thein Sein suspended the $3.6 billion, Chinese-led Myitsone dam project, some 90 percent of whose power would have gone to China.

Chinese Assistant Commerce Minister Tong Daochi said Li would announce a new aid package to “help Myanmar improve people’s livelihoods”, as well as a series of agreements about energy, power, agriculture.

“These measures are currently in discussion with Myanmar … You can expect a rather substantial outcome,” Tong added, declining to provide details.