Aung San Suu Kyi to meet Chinese counterpart in foreign minister debut

Aung San Suu Kyi will be meeting her Chinese counterpart in Naypyidaw, in the first act of international diplomacy since her party took over.
Aung San Suu Kyi will be meeting her Chinese counterpart in Naypyidaw, in the first act of international diplomacy since her party took over.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's new Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi will meet her Chinese counterpart in Naypyidaw on Tuesday (April 5), an official said, in her first act of international diplomacy since her pro-democracy party took power.

The South-east Asian nation sees relations with its giant neighbour - and largest trading partner - as its biggest foreign policy preoccupation, with border wars and controversial Beijing-backed mega-projects topping the agenda.

Myanmar's new civilian administration, sworn in on March 30, faces a cascade of economic challenges as it inherits rule of the poor nation from the military.

Ms Suu Kyi, the country's democracy figurehead who holds the post of foreign minister among a slew of cabinet portfolios, invited China's Wang Yi for talks in the capital.

"The Chinese foreign minister and our foreign minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will meet... this afternoon," in the capital, a staffer at the Foreign Affairs Ministry told AFP, requesting anonymity.

She was herself invited to Beijing in 2014 as China looked to rebalance its interests in fast-changing Myanmar ahead of last year's elections.

Chinese state media confirmed Mr Wang's two-day visit.

Myanmar's former junta drew criticism for its cosy relationship with China, a country which propped up the paranoid and repressive generals through the darkest years of their rule.

Army top brass handed Chinese investors gold-plated contracts exploiting Myanmar's abundant natural resources including dams and mines.

Myanmar's expectant public, who voted in droves for Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party in November elections, are hoping for an end to the carve-up of the country's resources.

In March a top party economic adviser said the incoming government could rethink a Chinese-backed dam in conflict hit northern Kachin State - a rare and highly symbolic threat to Chinese interests.

The multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydropower project was suspended in 2011 by the reform-minded government of Mr Thein Sein.

But Beijing is keen to restart the scheme.

The two countries share a long border which is dotted with rebel groups fighting Myanmar's government.

China is accused of allowing rebel groups to operate in its territory as it seeks leverage over its neighbour, as well as turning a blind eye to illicit border trades that fuel the wars including jade, drugs and timber.

But analysts say Beijing is also keen to show its support for the new administration, more so as Washington deepens ties with Myanmar.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is barred from presidency by the constitution, has shown a pragmatic streak in dealing with controversial Chinese interests.

She led an inquiry into the Letpadaung copper mine in central Monywa - a joint venture between Myanmar's military and China's Wanbao - following a violent police crackdown on protesters including monks in 2012.

Her panel recommended construction be allowed to continue, despite activists' concern.