Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit Myanmar next week to boost ties and investment projects as the countries mark 70 years of diplomatic relations.
Xi is scheduled to arrive on January 17 in the first presidential visit since Jiang Zemin’s trip in 2001.
Luo Zhaohui, China’s deputy foreign minister, said the neighbours would deepen economic and trade cooperation through Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which hopes to span Asia, Africa and Europe.
China is also marking the 70th anniversary of official ties with Vietnam and Indonesia.
Xu Liping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the fact Xi had chosen Myanmar for his first state trip of 2020 pointed to the strategic importance of Myanmar. The country offers China a bridge to India, the rest of Asean and the Indian Ocean.
Both Vietnam and Indonesia, however, are at odds with China over the South China Sea.
“It is a critical year for Myanmar ahead of the general election in November,” he said. Xu added that Xi’s visit would be helpful for State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of the scheduled general election.
China has openly backed Myanmar over the Rohingya genocide in Rakhine State.
Luo said Xi planned to raise the issue of Rohingya repatriation from Bangladesh during meetings with Suu Kyi and military chiefs, who still dominate Burmese politics.
He said: “At the request of the two countries, China has played a constructive role in this regard, including trilateral talks on early repatriation.”
China’s stalled Myitsone hydropower dam project in Kachin State and its deep-sea port and special economic zone at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State are expected to be discussed during Xi’s trip.
The Myitsone dam, stalled since 2011 amid community resistance, is deeply contentious in Myanmar. Protests were sparked last year when the former Chinese ambassador Hong Liang visited Myitkyina in Kachin State and a Chinese statement was released saying Kachin leaders had assured him that residents supported the project.
In October 2019 the Kachin State People’s Party said all Kachin mega-projects should cease until peace had been achieved.
The party’s vice chairman Gumgrawng Awng Hkam told the media: “China should not implement the [BRI] nor its mega projects in Kachin right now … China should consult us Kachin, but they are mainly dealing with the central government over the projects in our region. We know we cannot get the upper hand but we have to bear it.
“There are many Kachin in China. We should continue our brotherhood by having good communication with the Chinese government.”
Yangon. Impoverished Myanmar largely looks to China for investment. Picture credit: Asean Economist