Senior Chinese Official to Visit Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 1 August 2017

A senior official from China will visit Myanmar on Wednesday and hold talks with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials, according to sources in Naypyitaw.

Song Tao, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China will fly in tomorrow, but beyond a reported meeting with the State Counselor, the details of his scheduled visit remain unclear.

Song Tao last visited Myanmar in August 2016. During his four-day trip, he held talks with several key leaders in the country, including former military supreme leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, former President U Thein Sein, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson U Win Htein, and representatives from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, according to the official statement made by the Chinese embassy at the time.

Since the NLD government came into power in 2016, there have been a series of visits by senior government officials between China and Myanmar.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was the first foreign state official to visit Naypyitaw in April last year, at the invitation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Both President U Htin Kyaw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have visited China separately.

During the State Counselor’s own visit in August 2016, a joint statement from the two countries said that discussions during the trip included a focus on cooperation to ensure national reconciliation within Myanmar and the strengthening of “law-based management” along the countries’ shared border.

China promised to assist in Myanmar’s peace process, and last May, a Chinese special envoy—Sun Guoxiang—helped to negotiate a trip involving members of several armed ethnic groups to Naypyitaw so that they could attend a government-sponsored peace conference.

Just before the meeting, Sun Guoxiang engaged in quiet shuttle diplomacy between the State Counselor, the Myanmar Army chief, and representatives from ethnic armed groups active along the China border.

With China’s blessing, members of the armed groups forming the coalition known as the Northern Alliance flew to Naypyitaw. Beijing organized a charter flight to transport the representatives from Kunming, in Yunnan Province.

During her visit to attend China’s Belt and Road Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that China would continue to help the country achieve peace, and called for both sides to maintain stability on their shared border.

“China is willing to continue to provide necessary assistance for Myanmar’s internal peace process,” the President said.

Tension along the border has remained high and last March, thousands of people were forced to seek refuge in China due to intensified armed conflict in Myanmar. China responded by holding military drills in the region, and asking for a ceasefire to be enacted between ethnic militias and Myanmar security forces.

When President U Htin Kyaw visited China in April, he reportedly discussed the fate of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone dam project with his Chinese counterparts. Myanmar’s NLD government established a group called the Myitsone Commission to assess the overall environmental impact of the controversial Chinese hydropower project, located at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. In November 2016, the commission submitted a report to President U Htin Kyaw, but its content was not made public. China is also heavily invested in the Kyaukphyu deep sea port in troubled Rakhine State.

During U Htin Kyaw’s official visit, the two sides also signed an agreement on a crude oil pipeline running from the Kyaukphyu port to southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

It is expected that Song Tao’s upcoming visit will cover a wide range of issues including those mentioned above, as well as rising tension in the north, the crisis concerning the Rohingya people in Myanmar, issues regarding migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and concerns about Muslim militancy in troubled Rakhine State.

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee recently concluded a 12-day visit to Myanmar in late July and expressed her disappointment in conditions in the country in her end-of-mission statement. Myanmar today is reminiscent of rule under the military regime, she said.

The State Counselor’s Office fired back, stating that it was also “disappointed” with the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions and declared that Lee’s statement contained many “sweeping allegations and factual errors.”

Myanmar has also refused to grant access to a UN-sanctioned fact-finding mission. China and Russia voted against the UN Human Rights Council resolution to dispatch the mission, which was formed to investigate reports of widespread human rights abuses by security forces in Myanmar at large and in Rakhine State in particular.