Suu Kyi to Make First Official Visit China

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 3 November 2014

RANGOON — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to make her first official visit to China in December, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) confirmed.

Win Htein, an NLD Central Executive Committee member, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the party leader will travel to China next month, though he did not offer any other details about the trip.

“All I can say is she will visit China in December,” said Win Htein.

Suu Kyi’s visit will follow closely after US President Barack Obama’s second visit to Burma for two major regional summits in Naypyidaw.

The Chinese Embassy in Rangoon was not available for comment, but China’s Ambassador to Burma Yang Houlan said earlier this year that an invitation from the Chinese government would be forthcoming, given Suu Kyi’s popularity in Burma and abroad.

Suu Kyi has expressed a willingness to visit Burma’s northeastern neighbor, but has insisted that an invitation be extended directly from the Chinese government. She has declined several invitations from semi-official organizations.

China has demonstrated new interest in engaging with Burma’s opposition leaders since bilateral relations began to chill in recent years. In 2011, President Thein Sein displeased the Chinese government when he suspended the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam amid widespread public criticism of the project.

Suu Kyi was one of the loudest opponents of the project, which is a joint venture between state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and the Burmese government.

Growing opposition to other Chinese mega-projects in Burma has since led to a new approach in relations between the two countries, which shared strong financial ties while Burma was isolated from the West.

The Chinese government has diversified its approach by reaching out not only to authorities but also to opposition leaders and civil society groups.

Chinese diplomats have had near-constant discussions with Burma’s opposition in the years since the military ceded power to a nominally civilian government in 2011; the NLD has sent more than four delegations to China in the last year upon official invitations, and the Chinese Embassy donated 1 million kyats (US$1,000) to the NLD’s National Health Network earlier this year.

In December 2013, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended an unprecedented invitation for NLD members to visit the country. A 10-member delegation led by the party’s central executive committee members and spokesman Nyan Win accepted the invitation.

In February of this year, China’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ai Ping visited the NLD headquarters in Rangoon, becoming the first high-ranking Chinese official to meet with Burma’s top opposition officials in more than two decades.

As Burma prepares to usher in a flurry of new financial allies from neighboring Asean nations and the West, some analysts speculated the Chinese government could be trying to regain its foothold in the once-closed country.

Veteran journalist and Burma expert Bertil Lintner said Chinese officials could be “hedging their bets” in an attempt to befriend future players in Burmese politics.

“The Chinese learned a lesson after Myitsone, and they are worried that Burma is moving too close to the Americans,” he said.