Chinese President Xi Jinping Arrives in Myanmar for Two-Day Visit

By Nan Lwin 17 January 2020

YANGON—Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital, on Friday, hoping to gain a strong commitment from Myanmar’s leaders to implement his ambitious infrastructure projects in Myanmar, and to pave the way for the construction of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State, which will provide Beijing with direct access to the Indian Ocean.

According to his official schedule, Xi will meet with Myanmar President U Win Myint, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and leaders of the Myanmar Parliament.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit China’s southern neighbor in nearly two decades.

He will also attend an event to mark the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations this year. Myanmar was the first non-communist country to recognize the communist People’s Republic of China after its foundation in 1949.

Both sides have already made several homages in art and films to celebrate the anniversary. According to the Chinese president, Myanmar and China have designated 2020 as the China-Myanmar Year of Culture and Tourism.

One day before Xi’s visit, an article appeared in state media with his byline under the title, “Writing a New Chapter in Our Millennia-Old Pauk-Phaw Friendship.” The term “pauk-phaw” was coined in the 1950s to describe the supposedly friendly and close relationship between China and Myanmar.

In his article, Xi said he looked forward to renewing China’s “pauk-phaw” ties with Myanmar and discussing future cooperation during the upcoming visit.

He said practical cooperation by both sides was important for implementing the development projects that make up the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). He stressed that both sides need to promote the three pillars of the CMEC, namely the Kyaukphyu SEZ, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone, and the New Yangon City.

According to Myanmar Deputy Commerce Minister U Aung Htoo, the two countries plan to sign a dozen agreements on the implementation of the Kyaukphyu SEZ, the border cooperation zones, road upgrade projects, trade relations, and social and economic development assistance, among other things.

Two days before Xi’s visit, nearly 40 civil society organizations (CSOs) called on the Chinese president to permanently terminate the suspended Myitsone Dam project, saying it threatens the prosperity of the Myanmar people and that friendly relations between the two countries will be harmed if the project goes ahead.

A Kyaukphyu SEZ watchdog group also urged the Myanmar government not to sign any more agreements during Xi’s visit if it could not ensure citizens’ rights and address public concerns over land confiscations in the project area. The watchdog also asked to be allowed to participate in the project’s Strategic Impact Assessment (SIA). The SIA was recommended in the report issued by the late Kofi Annan’s Rakhine Advisory Commission.

A few hours before Xi arrived, a prominent Shan political party issued a statement calling on the Chinese and Myanmar governments to seek approval from both local people and the Shan State parliament before implementing the China-backed cross-border economic cooperation projects in the state. The projects are part of the Chinese president’s ambitious infrastructure plans for the region.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy warned that the China-backed projects would have a negative impact and disturb the stability and peace in those areas if they failed to respect human rights and dignity, lacked transparency and harmed the environment and society.

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