Suu Kyi meets China's Foreign Minister

YANGON • Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi met her Chinese counterpart in Naypyitaw yesterday, as relations with Beijing take centre stage in the first diplomatic foray of her newly installed pro-democracy government.

The South-east Asian nation sees 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.

The new civilian administration, sworn in on March 30, faces a host of economic challenges as it inherits the government of the impoverished nation from the military.

At a press conference after the meeting, Ms Suu Kyi described relations with China as "very important politically as well as socially and economically".

China's Mr Wang Yi, who is on a two-day visit, said his government was eager to "build more confidence" between the nations and vowed that China would support Myanmar's process of national reconciliation. "China is a good neighbour to Myanmar. We want to improve the relationship between the two countries," the Chinese Foreign Minister said through an interpreter.

With a cumulative total of US$15.4 billion (S$21 billion) of approved investments in Myanmar, China is by far the country's largest foreign investor.

Ms Suu Kyi, who met China's President Xi Jinping during her visit to Beijing last June, has shown a pragmatic streak in dealing with controversial Chinese interests.

But in a rare sign of pushback, a top party economic adviser last month said the incoming government could rethink a Chinese- backed dam in the conflict-hit northern Kachin state.

The multibillion-dollar Myitsone hydropower project was suspended in 2011 by the reformist government of Mr Thein Sein. Beijing is eager to restart the scheme.

The meeting between Ms Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency by the Constitution, and Mr Wang comes amid growing tension between her party and the military, just days after her government took power.

Myanmar's military lawmakers yesterday made clear their opposition to a Bill to create a powerful new presidential advisory role for Ms Suu Kyi by refusing to take part in a Lower House of Parliament vote on it. But the Bill breezed through the House and is likely to be quickly signed into law by President Htin Kyaw.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Suu Kyi meets China's Foreign Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe