Monday, September 25, 2017

China pledges support for new Myanmar government

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday pledged Beijing’s support for Myanmar’s new government after holding talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that touched on China’s sometimes controversial investment projects, including the suspended Myitsone dam.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses a press conference yesterday following his meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar TimesChina’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses a press conference yesterday following his meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

“China will not interfere in internal affairs, but we strongly support the right choice of the Myanmar people,” Mr Wang told a joint news conference in Nay Pyi Taw, acknowledging the landslide election victory of the National League for Democracy last November.

Mr Wang, the first senior foreign official to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since the government took office on March 30, made clear that China sought a continuation of good relations despite problems between the two sides. China “cherished” relations with its neighbour, he said.

“We appreciate our long relations. We will not change that attitude even though the government has changed,” he said. Myanmar can rely on China for its development, he added.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – acting in her capacity as foreign minister among her multiple government and party roles – was asked by The Myanmar Times about the NLD’s campaign promise to disclose to the public the contract for the Myitsone hydropower project, which was suspended by U Thein Sein’s government in 2011 for the entirety of his term in office.

“The Chinese foreign minister came to congratulate our new government. There was a mention of their projects but we did not discuss anything at all,” she replied during the 20-minute briefing.

“I have not even read the contract, so it is difficult to show it to the people. We did not discuss anything particular in detail,” added Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sworn in as minister for energy and electric power on March 30 but held the portfolio for just six days before handing it to a senior bureaucrat.

Mr Wang Yi expressed enthusiasm over improving economic relations through investment projects to help the country and people.

“We agreed to solve issues amicably and through friendly relations,” he said.

Recent commentaries in China’s state-controlled media have not hesitated to list the outstanding issues – including Myitsone, a perceived bias against Chinese investment, and repercussions of the Tatmadaw’s conflict last year with ethnic Chinese rebels in the Kokang border region.

Overriding individual issues is a concern in Beijing that Myanmar – under a leader who was educated in the UK and has cultivated close ties for years with Western governments – will continue a westward shift in policy orientation that began under her predecessor.

“Since Myanmar embarked on the road to democratisation in 2011, some in the West have drummed up the rhetoric that ‘China’s clout in Myanmar is waning’,” the China Daily said.

“Admittedly problems have cropped up between the two countries in the past few years. China has endured economic losses when Myanmar stalled the construction of some projects,” it added, mentioning there were “some anti-China sentiments in Myanmar”.

The daily said that it hoped Myanmar’s new government would respond with good will to the “positive signals” from the Chinese side, a message that a pragmatic Beijing was sending through its foreign emissary.

Acutely aware of Chinese sensitivities as well as its importance as Myanmar’s biggest trading partner and a major investor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed that Myanmar’s foreign policy was to have friendly relations with all countries, and that she was aware of the importance of bilateral ties with China.

Mr Wang is scheduled to meet President U Htin Kyaw today, as well as other senior government officials before returning to Beijing, a Chinese diplomat said.

Yun Sun, an analyst at the Stimson Center, a Washington think-tank, described Mr Wang’s visit as “really quite a show of friendliness”.

“And the fact that she [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] extended the invitation must have made China very pleased. There are many issues the Chinese want to discuss, including the peace process and economic development. We’ll see what comes out of it,” Ms Sun added.