Thein Sein Concludes China Visit

By Patrick Boehler 24 September 2012

Burma’s President Thein Sein on Saturday concluded his second visit to China since taking office in March 2011. The five-day trip through four Chinese provinces focused on encouraging investment in Burma and included a meeting with the man most believe will be China’s next president, Xi Jinping. However, the trip did not result in any major announcements.

“The older leadership generation created and cultivated a deep friendship between China and Burma,” he told a provincial Communist Party official on Friday, according to a Guangxi Autonomous Region state-media release. “We will continue to uphold this tradition.”

China is Burma’s largest investor. By August, Chinese direct investment amounted to US $14.1 billion, according to figures cited by the Burmese president in a speech on Friday. Bilateral trade in the first half of the year reached $3.5 billion.

Thein Sein’s visit comes just days after he received Wu Bangguo, a Chinese Communist Party Politburo member who is at the helm of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, in Naypyidaw. Wu’s visit was the highest of a Chinese official in a decade.

The president departed from Naypyidaw on his second trip to China last Tuesday. In transit at Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, Thein Sein met with the provincial party secretary Qin Guangrong and governor Liu Jiheng. Yunnan is China’s province bordering Burma’s Kachin State where an ongoing civil war has provoked Chinese concern. Yunnan also hosts the headquarters of the joint security force fighting piracy and drug trafficking along the Mekong River. Thein Sein’s visit came a couple of days ahead of the murder trial of Burmese militiaman, Naw Kham, at a court in Kunming.

Party Secretary Qin stressed Yunnan’s interests in the construction of “economic co-operation zones” which were previously discussed near the province’s border hub Ruili and elsewhere. “[Yunnan Province] wants to contribute in the construction of the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone,” Qin was quoted as saying by the provincial government mouthpiece Yunnan Daily. Kyaukpyu is in Burma’s Arakan State and is the base for operations for two massive oil and gas pipelines under construction which lead to Yunnan.

The Burmese president continued his trip to Xi’an, the capital of the central province Shaanxi, where his visit focused on agricultural matters. He also received an honorary doctorate from Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University, which has set up a scholarship program for five Burmese students per year, and visited the Yangling Agricultural Hi-tech Industries Demonstration Zone, a hub for agricultural research in China. He also held talks with governor Zhao Zhengyong, and visited a Buddhist temple and the grave of China’s first emperor.

On Thursday, Thein Sein visited Shenzhen, China’s first special economic zone, which borders Hong Kong. “We invite Shenzhen investors to join in the construction of Burmese ports, telecommunications equipment and other infrastructure projects,” he told Shenzhen mayor Xu Qin, according to a local television broadcast of the meeting. His visit coincided with a visit by Khin Aung Myint, the speaker of Burma’s Upper House of Parliament, to Shenzhen to participate in a regional conference by the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament.

On Friday, Thein Sein met with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi autonomous region. Xi, who made headlines earlier this month by canceling several meetings, including with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for purported health reasons, is widely expected to succeed Hu Jintao as the Chinese head of state later this year.

Xi last met a senior Burmese figure in May when ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party’s secretary general Htay Oo visited Beijing.

A report by the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Xi asking for “both sides to focus on ensuring the smooth implementation of major cooperation projects.” Thein Sein’s suspension last year of the Myitsone dam project, a Chinese-run hydropower plant in Kachin State, raised concerns among Chinese investors over the willingness of the new civilian government to back deals agreed upon by the former military regime.

Also on Friday, Thein Sein inaugurated the 9th Asean-China Trade Expo in Nanning, which focused on Burmese agricultural, jade and wood products. The Burmese president along with Minister of Commerce Win Myint participated in a roundtable discussion with representatives of major Chinese companies. “We welcome foreign direct investment on condition that it doesn’t harm the people’s interests and the environment,” Thein Sein said, according to a transcript.

Tang Yi, the CEO of China National Technology Import & Export Co., a state-owned trader of industrial technology, revealed that the company had invested $200 million in Burma in hydro-energy, construction and agriculture.

The other panelists represented the leading fields of Chinese investment in Burma: the state-owned construction contractor China Machinery Engineering Corp.; the defense contractor with mining investments in Kachin State Norinco; Tianjin Great Wall Garments Group; and telecommunications equipment and services provider Huawei.

Traveling with the Burmese president were Minister for Foreign Affairs Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Religious Affairs Thura Myint Maung, Minister of President’s Office Soe Thein, Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Kan Zaw, Minister of Finance and Revenue Win Shein, Minister of Transport Nyan Tun Aung, Minister of Commerce Win Myint, and two deputy ministers.

Lt-Gen Aung Than Tut, the head of the Bureau of Special Operations 2 of the Ministry of Defence, who is in charge of military operations in the area bordering China and the Golden Triangle, was also part of the delegation.

In a lighter moment before returning to Naypyidaw on Saturday, Thein Sein confessed a fondness for Chinese television dramas. “Since childhood, I have been watching Chinese television,” the president told China Radio International.

Thein Sein’s visit to the world’s second largest economy concluded two days before he embarked on a historic visit to the United States on Monday.