Analysis

Infographics: Chinese Leaders’ Visits to Myanmar Over 6 Decades

By Nan Lwin 15 January 2020

YANGON—Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Naypyitaw on Friday for a two-day visit aimed at helping his country establish a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean and seeking Myanmar leaders’ commitment to key backbone projects for his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative planned across China’s southern neighbor.

Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Myanmar in nearly two decades.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Myanmar was the first non-communist country to recognize the communist People’s Republic of China after its foundation in 1949. Economic relations were virtually non-existent until 1953. In 1954, the countries signed their first trade agreement, but it was very limited in scope.

Relations warmed after the signing a treaty of friendship and mutual non-aggression, and the promulgation of a Joint Declaration in June 1954, which enshrined what are officially known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited Myanmar eight times from 1954 to 1965.

From 1954 to 1960, the countries’ relations were focused on border treaty agreements and implementation of the Five Principles.

Diplomatic relations were temporarily disrupted following anti-Chinese riots in Myanmar in 1967. The expulsion of Chinese communities from Myanmar created a deterioration in the China-Myanmar relationship. The intense riots prompted China to show active support for the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), which attempted to seize power along the shared border in 1968.

Engagement was revived in the 1970s, but the relationship was precarious, with China pursuing a dual diplomacy, engaging with the Myanmar government on the one hand while continuing its support for the CPB on the other.

Chinese Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping visited Yangon in January 1978, when China decided to withdraw its support for the CPB. At that time, China sought closer economic and political ties with the U Ne Win government.

China became a close ally of Myanmar, especially when the Southeast Asian country was under the military regime in the late 1990s. Amid international sanctions against the junta, from late 1994 Chinese leaders visited Myanmar pushing an agenda of economic expansion, mostly focused on implementing mega-projects, including the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.

From 2000 to 2010, nearly 60 memorandums of understanding and memorandums of agreement were signed during top Chinese leaders’ visits to Myanmar, particularly on cooperation in the economic and technology sectors.

In 2014, during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s trip to Myanmar, the two countries signed

agreements worth US$7.8 billion (11.5 trillion kyats) covering the construction of power plants, cooperation in fisheries and livestock, hydropower development and support for the telecommunications industry, among other things.

Here, The Irrawaddy breaks down six decades of high-level Chinese visits to Myanmar and their implications.

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