High expectations for Xi Jinping’s visit to mark 70th anniversary of China-Burma relations

15-Jan-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping will try to kick-start stalled Belt and Road Initiative projects and attempt to mediate in the Rohingya crisis during a two-day visit to Myanmar this week to mark the 70th anniversary of relations between the nations, analysts said.

Ties between Myanmar and China its biggest trading partner have strengthened rapidly in recent years, although violent conflicts and one of the world’s largest refugee emergencies pose major challenges to Beijing’s goals in the Southeast Asian country.

Xi’s visit is expected to begin on Friday, the first by a Chinese leader since Jiang Zemin 19 years ago, and may be a “milestone” for bilateral ties, according to Beijing’s senior envoy in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital.

Xi would meet the country’s senior military and political leaders, and the two sides were expected to sign “dozens” of agreements in culture, politics and the economy, state newspaper Global Times quoted Chen Hai, China’s ambassador, as saying on Sunday.

He said Xi would meet President Win Myint and attend a banquet hosted by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto political leader since 2016 and head of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Xi will also meet Min Aung Hlaing, commander of Myanmar’s armed forces and still a powerful political player following the country’s transition to democracy from military government in 2015.

The visit is expected to touch on topics such as long-stalled investment projects including the Myitsone dam, and Myanmar’s border crisis with Bangladesh.

Dr Renaud Egreteau, of the department of Asian and international studies at City University of Hong Kong, said that the trip would be a major diplomatic move by China’s leader.

“President Xi certainly seems to want reassurance from Myanmar that under the NLD, the country will continue to adhere to its commitment to engage in an array of belt and road projects some having lingered for more than a decade,” Egreteau said.

On Friday, Suu Kyi made a rare visit to northern Kachin state, which borders China and where the $3.6 billion Beijing-funded Myitsone dam project has been idle since 2011 after residents protested about having to abandon homes, land and farms.

At a meeting to announce Xi’s trip to Myanmar, foreign vice-minister Luo Zhaohui said China and Myanmar were “still maintaining close communication” on the dam.

The northwestern state of Rakhine, a region of armed conflict and the heart of the Rohingya refugee crisis, will also figure in Xi’s visit.

An oil pipeline to Kunming in China’s southern Yunnan province and a seaport on the Indian Ocean are two belt and road infrastructure projects in Rakhine, where Myanmar’s military and thousands of ethnic Rakhine rebels clash.

Listing priorities for cooperation with Myanmar, Chen said China would “help Myanmar and Bangladesh resolve the Rakhine issue through negotiations”.

“The biggest issues aren’t between China and Myanmar, but between Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Wang Dehua, researcher at the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have sought shelter in Bangladesh. “China will try to mediate, this is clear,” he said.

But China has been the only major world power to support Myanmar’s handling of the crisis which has brought strong international criticism down on Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi.

Half a million minority Rohingya Muslims fled after Myanmar military attacks in 2017, which United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called “textbook ethnic cleansing”.

“I think there are numerous expectations for Xi’s visit, but there is also trepidation that the high-level visit is predicated on China cashing in on its diplomatic support for Myanmar over the Rakhine crisis, and unsticking stalled CMEC [China Myanmar Economic Corridor] projects,” said David Mathieson, an analyst based in Yangon.

“The Western opprobrium heaped on Myanmar was not mired by China, who balanced its strategic interests with shoring up support for the NLD government, and now it’s time for China to use that support to get its trade and infrastructure projects moving faster.”

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/high-expectations-xi-jinping-visit-111230558.html

 


Category: Regional

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