China hopes Suu Kyi will revive divisive dam project

NLD co-founder Tin Oo, 89, might be too frail for the presidency. Source: Wikimedia

China is hopeful that an abandoned dam project in Myanmar can be revived under Aung San Suu Kyi’s new administration, Beijing’s foreign minister has told the media, as Myanmar is preoccupied with debate about who will be the next president.

In 2011, President Thein Sein suspended the US$3.6-billion, Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project, angering his allies in China. Around 90 per cent of the dam’s power was due to go to China.

Beijing’s other projects in Myanmar have proved controversial. A protesting farmer was shot dead by security guards at the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, and residents claim they have not been properly compensated for Chinese oil and gas pipelines running to the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine State.

China wanted to help the impoverished nation to develop, Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi the media.

“The Myitsone dam is a commercial cooperation project, and had all its approvals completed. Difficulties in cooperation are ‘growing pains’. Both countries will continue to proactively appropriately handle it,” Wang said.

“We have confidence in the future of Sino-Myanmar mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Myanmar’s parliament begins the process of selecting a new president on Thursday with Suu Kyi constitutionally barred from the presidency and saying she will control the government from “above the president”. The military is designated 25 per cent of parliament, meaning it can veto any efforts to change the 2008 constitution.

China has moved to improve relations with Suu Kyi, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2015.

Wang said China’s relationship with Myanmar would not weaken with the political changes.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD she leads have always had friendly exchanges with China, and mutual understanding and trust continue to increase. We also have full faith in Myanmar’s future,” he told the press.

With mystery surrounding the identity of the National League for Democracy’s presidential candidates, several names have appeared.

Htin Kyaw, 69, is often described as Suu Kyi’s driver but he is also a school friend, NLD veteran and a trusted adviser. He is the son of Min Thu Wun, a well-regarded writer and poet. Htin Kyaw is also a senior executive in Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation and he is married to an NLD MP.

Tin Myo Win, 64, is Suu Kyi’s doctor and was one of the few people allowed to see her regularly during the 15-odd years she spent under house arrest. He leads the NLD’s health network and attends numerous key meetings beside Suu Kyi. He is the chief surgeon at Yangon’s busy Muslim Free Hospital.

Tin Mar Aung, Suu Kyi’s personal assistant, is also a doctor and close ally of the NLD leader. A Rakhine Buddhist, she is also tipped to be the next foreign minister, although it is said that Suu Kyi has her eye on that role. She apparently has an abrupt manner although this might appeal to Suu Kyi.

Tin Oo, 89, a former general who co-founded the NLD with Suu Kyi, commands huge respect in Myanmar. His impressive military record means he has the “defence vision” required for the president in the constitution. But he is frail and says he has no interest in the job. He might be the ideal short-term candidate until Suu Kyi can force through a constitutional change.

Shwe Mann, 69, another former junta general, was seen as a reformer was purged from the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party last year. Shwe Mann is the only non-NLD name doing the rounds. He is not an NLD member. He has a close relationship with Suu Kyi but a Shwe Mann presidency would outrage the voters and seems unlikely to appease a military apparently displeased by his dealings with Suu Kyi.

NLD spokesman Win Htein has been mentioned although he refused to run for parliament because of his age and health problems.