China not exploiting Myanmar: State media

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talk during a signing of agreements ceremony in Beijing.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talk during a signing of agreements ceremony in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Accusations that Beijing is exploiting Myanmar's resources are manipulated by Western media, a state-run Chinese newspaper said Friday (Aug 19), with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on a visit overshadowed by a stalled dam project.

Suu Kyi's first major foreign trip since her civilian administration took power in March has been dominated by the US$3.6 billion (S$4.8 billion) Myitsone dam, on hold since protests in 2011.

Beijing has been pressing for the resumption of the Chinese-backed project ever since.

Suu Kyi is due to meet with China's President Xi Jinping on Friday, after Beijing said the democracy champion had agreed to "set up an investigation committee to appropriately solve" the dam issue.

The state-run Global Times acknowledged that a "real breakthrough" on the dam was unlikely during the visit, but insisted: "It is only a matter of time before the project will be resumed."

It also chided people in Myanmar who claim that Beijing is exploiting the country's resources.

"The misguided thought is the result of people's impulse at the initial stage of democratisation and the manipulation of the Western media," it added.

Beijing was instrumental in shielding Myanmar's former junta rulers from international opprobrium while Suu Kyi, now State Counsellor, languished for years under house arrest as a democracy activist.

At the time Myitsone was seen as emblematic of Beijing's economic dominance over Myanmar.

In 2011 a quasi-civilian government halted the project - originally designed to supply most of its electricity to China - in a surprise move after local protests.

Now that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is in power, the Global Times said, "Myitsone dam does not have to be reviewed from a political perspective any more".

The United States funded some of the non-governmental groups opposing the dam, according to classified documents released by WikiLeaks.

The state-run China Daily said in an editorial that Suu Kyi's visit showed she was a "political realist" who realises the importance of "reassuring" China.

Myanmar has drawn closer to the United States during its transition to civilian rule.

At the same time Myanmar needs to get Beijing onside as it pursues historic peace talks with armed groups on its border.

Suu Kyi on Thursday was greeted with military honours in Beijing, where she met Premier Li Keqiang, telling him: "At present there are complex changes in the world."