Suu Kyi to visit China ahead of peace meeting

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/10 0:53:48 Last Updated: 2016/8/10 6:37:54

Myanmar seeks China support for ethnic unity

Myanmar's State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to embark on a four-day visit to China next week, her first trip outside of ASEAN since taking office.

Suu Kyi will arrive in Beijing on August 17, Myanmar's President's Office has confirmed. She is expected to be received as a head of state and meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, analysts said.

Her trip, which is roughly a month ahead of her visit to the US in September, is expected to help recalibrate China-Myanmar relations under the new Myanmar government. It is also seen by analysts as a small diplomatic victory for China over speculations that bilateral ties might take a blow under the new administration, given China's close ties with the former military-backed government and Suu Kyi's identity as a democracy icon long hailed by the West.

Suu Kyi's China visit also comes two weeks before the 21st Century Panglong Conference, a peace conference involving the Myanmar government, the military and ethnic armed groups. China's support is seen as vital in resolving Myanmar's decade-long ethnic conflicts.

"Choosing China as her first destination outside of ASEAN reinforces Suu Kyi's image as a pragmatic politician who prioritizes national interests above ideology and one who is careful in balancing Myanmar's relations with China on one side and the West on the other," Ji Qiufeng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, told the Global Times.

The de facto Myanmar leader is tasked with reviving Myanmar's economy and attaining national reconciliation with ethnic rebel forces.

"Both Myanmar and China know, as Myanmar's northern neighbor, China can help Myanmar in ways that the US cannot," Ji noted.

The visit would be Suu Kyi's second trip to China. She met with Xi the first time through a party-to-party channel in June 2015 before Myanmar's general election in November.

Suu Kyi is expected to discuss a broad range of topics with the Chinese leaders, including setting the tone for bilateral relations and facilitating trade and other economic cooperation.

"The leaders don't necessarily have to discuss specific projects such as the Myitsone Dam. A lot of the issues can be subsequently resolved as long as bilateral ties are on the right track," Ji said.

The Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, a China-invested project, was suspended after sustained protests over environmental concerns.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi extended an invitation to Suu Kyi at last month's ASEAN meeting in Laos, the Myanmar Times reported.

China's unique role

Analysts believe reaffirming China's support of the peace process is another reason behind Suu Kyi's visit.

Suu Kyi has been calling on ethnic groups that didn't sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in October last year to attend the 21st Century Panglong Conference set to take place on August 31. It was named after the 1947 Panglong Conference, led by her father General Aung San.

"Attaining national reconciliation is Suu Kyi's top priority, who is drawing on her father's political legacy to garner support," Sun Xiaoying, a research fellow at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Only eight of 15 ethnic armed groups signed the cease-fire agreement last year.

The first Panglong Conference generated a historic agreement between the interim Myanmar government and ethnic groups, which eventually led to the Union of Burma in 1948.

China has voiced its support for Myanmar's peace process at various occasions.

China's Special Envoy on Asia Affairs Sun Guoxiang, who attended the Mai Ja Yang ethnic armed group summit as an observer in July, told the Xinhua News Agency that Myanmar is at a critical point in its peace process, and China's friendly diplomatic policy toward Myanmar will not change despite the changing political environment, both in Myanmar and internationally.

"China has always played a unique and constructive role in Myanmar's peace process," Sun Guoxiang said.

The Tatmadaw, Myanmar's military, recently softened its stance toward ethnic armed groups.

Posted in: Diplomacy

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