Peace Process, Myitsone Dam on Agenda for Suu Kyi’s China Trip

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 August 2016

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s peace process and the controversial Myitsone Dam will be on the agenda when Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s foreign affairs minister, visits China this week and meets with Chinese leaders, according to ministry spokesman Kyaw Zeya.

At a Friday press conference in Naypyidaw on the ministry’s “100-day plan,” Kyaw Zeya, who is also director-general of the Political Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that these issues would be discussed.

He responded vaguely to further questions from reporters about the Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, whose fate remains uncertain after a suspension order from former President Thein Sein in 2011 expired at the end of his term in March this year: “We have been holding seminars to look for possible solutions. We will try our best for a productive discussion.”

Kyaw Zeya also commented on China’s growing interest in Burma’s internal peace negotiations, evident in public statements and closer involvement with key actors in the process. Analysts have considered China’s roll to be a potential game changer—for better or for worse—given their close relationships with powerful ethnic armed groups based along the border.

“A special representative of China’s foreign affairs ministry is involved in the peace process of our country. We are prepared to discuss it if further with our Chinese counterparts,” said Kyaw Zeya.

Burma’s President Htin Kyaw on Friday formed a new 20-member commission, chaired by Deputy Lower House Speaker T Khun Myat, to evaluate all proposed hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River—including the Myitsone Dam.

The commission will assess the potential environmental and social effects of proposed projects, their possible impact on foreign investment and the wider economy, and potential losses in water resources set alongside public access to electricity.

In early April, Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi was the first foreign dignitary to visit Burma after the installation of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. However, the press was told afterwards that the Myitsone Dam and other controversial investments in China were not discussed.

Suu Kyi made her first official trip to China in June 2015, as head of the opposition NLD, at the invitation of the Communist Party of China. She held talks with Chinese President Xi Jingping, among others; Chinese media described the trip as having deepened “mutual understanding.”

Suu Kyi intends to visit the US and meet with President Obama on the sidelines of a session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

“President Obama’s term is ending soon. So, he invited her to visit before then,” said Kyaw Zeya.

Despite an intention to prioritize Asean countries—trips to Laos and Thailand have taken place in recent months—Kyaw Zeya said that Suu Kyi had no current plans to visit Malaysia, which hosts some 100,000 registered (and many more unregistered) Burmese migrant workers.

On August 2, The Straits Times reported that Suu Kyi was on a purported Islamic State hit list, along with Malaysian national leaders, that was sent to police in Malaysia. In response, the Burmese government announced that they would be increasing Suu Kyi’s personal security.