Published: Mon, August 22, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Aung Sang Suu Kyi begins first visit to China

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi accompanied by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Liu said China also expressed its support for the peaceful settlement of problems in the north Myanmar region.

It also noted that Suu Kyi was visiting China ahead of a trip to the United States in September, and that China's friendship with Myanmar was crucial.

"China is the first country you've visited outside the Association of Southeast Asia Nations [ASEAN] after taking office as state counselor, showing the importance the government of Myanmar and you yourself have attached to the bilateral relations", said Premier Li.

China's state-run media sought to portray the current trip as a sign that Myanmar's ties with Beijing are stronger than its links to Washington.

Former Myanmar President Thein Sein angered China in 2011 when he suspended work on the hydro-power dam, at the confluence of two rivers in the Ayeyarwady river basin, after it drew widespread protests on environmental grounds.

In the intervening period, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Myanmar as a special envoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 16, 2016 and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman led a high-level business delegation to the eastern neighbour for the India-Myanmar Business Conclave on May 18-20, 2016.

"Presently, China is promoting the Belt and Road Initiative and is further opening up to the outside world. Once the project is completed and put into operation, Myanmar can make the most of the Irrawaddy River's hydropower resources, and export electricity in return for handsome economic benefits, a win-win deal", it said.

According to Myanmar officials, the visit will tackle a new and delicate era in relations, including development aid and Myanmar's upcoming complex peace process involving the government, the military and ethnic armed groups.

"We hope that China-Myanmar relations can be further consolidated and developed", Suu Kyi told Li during their meeting in Beijing. "If Myanmar can realize domestic peace, it can take a free ride on China's rapid development", said Lei Zhuning, a researcher with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the China-ASEAN dialogue relationship.

China has traditionally close ties with Myanmar, earlier called Burma.

Suu Kyi's government recently announced a commission to review all hydroelectric projects along the Irrawaddy.

After the meeting, the two leaders witnessed the signing of several agreements, in the fields of energy, infrastructure construction, trade and the economy.

Communist-ruled China launched a diplomatic charm offensive after the November elections, dispatching foreign minister Wang Yi for talks with Suu Kyi soon after her party's victory.

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