China Rolls Out Red Carpet for Myanmar’s Suu Kyi in Beijing

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Aung San Suu Kyi meets Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Aug. 18.

Photographer: Rolex Dela Pena/AFP via Getty Images
  • Myanmar leader, Chinese premier pledged to grow ties
  • Dam project, peace talks discussed in high-profile visit

China is ready to work with Myanmar’s new government to push relations to a new level, Premier Li Keqiang told State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday in Beijing.

Myanmar’s de facto leader made China her first visit outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after her National League for Democracy party formed the new government four months ago. Suu Kyi visited Laos in May and Thailand in June. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate will visit the U.S. next month at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

Prioritizing China shows "the Myanmar government and yourself highly value relations" with their northern neighbor, Li said during a reception at the Great Hall of People before reporters were shown out of the room. "China appreciates that."

Suu Kyi told Li before their private meeting that she hopes ties can be "further consolidated and developed." Later they presided over a signing ceremony for deals in areas including water conservancy, energy, health care and education.

Her four-day visit comes at a critical moment in relations between the countries as both have shown interest in adopting a more pragmatic approach and improving ties previously tested by mutual suspicion.

$3.6 Billion Dam

China hopes to resume the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project, a major source of bilateral tensions since being halted in 2011 by the previous military-backed government. Suu Kyi is keen to solicit China’s help on domestic peace talks to end conflicts in northern Myanmar near the border with China.

Thursday’s discussion included the dam project and peace talks, vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters. He added that China hopes the dam issue can be solved "smoothly."

The mineral-rich Southeast Asian country offers access to the Indian Ocean and is strategically important to the world’s second-largest economy as well as President Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt, One Road trade and infrastructure initiative. China is by far Myanmar’s largest trading partner, with total 2015 trade of $15.6 billion accounting for almost half of the smaller country’s total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China’s foreign ministry last month voiced support for the peace process, saying a "politically stable and economically prosperous Myanmar is in China’s best interests." A major peacemaking meeting involving the ethnic groups, the military, and the government, called the Panglong Conference, is scheduled for Aug. 31 in the capital city Naypyidaw.

Last week Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw formed a 20-member commission to review all hydro-power projects on the Irrawaddy River, including the Myitsone Dam. A commentary by China’s official Xinhua News Agency called it "a positive signal that the new leadership in Naypyidaw is handling its relationship with Beijing in a prudent and pragmatic manner."

Xi, who hosted Suu Kyi in Beijing last June before she led her party to a landslide election victory in November, is scheduled to meet with her again Friday in Beijing.

— With assistance by Ting Shi, and Keith Zhai

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