China’s Deputy Minister Visits NLD

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 27 February 2014

RANGOON — A high-ranking Chinese government official has paid a visit to the headquarters of Burma’s biggest opposition party for the first time in more than two decades, according to the party’s patron.

China’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Ai Ping, met with senior members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party on Wednesday.

NLD patron Tin Oo said the visit was intended to boost ties not only between the two countries, but also between the NLD and the Communist Party of China (CPC).

“After all these years, it’s the first visit by a Chinese government official to our headquarters,” Tin Oo told The Irrawaddy. He said the last time a Chinese official visited the NLD head office in Rangoon was in 1990, right after the party won a landslide victory in nationwide elections.

During the nearly one-hour meeting on Wednesday, a Chinese delegation led by Ai Ping and Yang Houlan, the Chinese ambassador to Burma, met with Tin Oo as well as NLD central committee members Nyan Win and Monywa Aung Shin.

“They only focused on promoting a good relationship between China and Burma, and they didn’t utter a word about Myitsone, Letpadaung or the Chinese gas pipeline,” said Tin Oo, referring to Chinese-backed business ventures in Burma.

“They are also curious about the NLD’s international relationships, especially if the party comes to power. We explained that we will stick to our policy of having good relationships with every country.”

According to Monywa Aung Shin, the deputy minister said China had been unable to build relations in the past with the NLD due to Burma’s military dictatorship. “Now the political situation here is more open, so they said they want to promote party-to-party relations,” the NLD member told The Irrawaddy.

He added that at least four NLD delegations had traveled to China since last year.

China has stepped up engagement with the Burmese opposition and public in the past year after some of its megaprojects in Burma sparked popular backlash. In 2011, Burmese President Thein Sein suspended the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, which is backed by the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI). Suu Kyi, chairperson of the NLD, was among many public voices calling for the dam’s suspension.

During a trip to China in May last year, an NLD delegation was approached by CPI and told that the company wanted to restart the suspended project. A month earlier, Yang Houlan, the newly appointed ambassador, met with Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon, following up on a visit by his outgoing predecessor, Li Junhua. The Chinese Embassy in Burma also donated 1 million kyats ($1,000) to the NLD National Health Network several months ago.

In December last year, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited NLD members to China for the first time. A delegation led by the party’s central executive committee members and spokesman Nyan Win made the visit.