Suu Kyi visits border region ahead of Xi visit

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the 72nd Kachin State Day ceremony in the state capital of Myitkyina yesterday.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the 72nd Kachin State Day ceremony in the state capital of Myitkyina yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MYITKYINA (Myanmar) • Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made a rare trip to a region bordering China, days before President Xi Jinping is expected to push for controversial port and dam projects during a visit to the country.

Wearing traditional ethnic attire, Ms Suu Kyi danced with members of a street procession yesterday in northern Kachin state's capital Myitkyina, a day after supporters cheered her arrival at the airport.

She urged a crowd of thousands to "focus on the present" and called for peace in the remote region, where insurgents have clashed with the army over autonomy and resources.

She did not mention the China-backed Myitsone dam, a US$3.6 billion (S$4.86 billion) project halted in 2011 in the face of widespread opposition. A proposal to reinstate the dam project drew thousands of protesters onto the streets last year.

Myanmar is a vital piece of China's Belt and Road Initiative, Mr Xi's US$1 trillion vision for maritime, rail and road projects across Asia, Africa and Europe.

During his two-day visit to the country starting on Jan 17, Mr Xi and top Myanmar political and military leaders are expected to discuss the initiative, according to a briefing by China's Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui yesterday.

Asked about the dam in Kachin, Mr Luo said the two sides "are still maintaining close communication on this".

Ms Suu Kyi was an opponent of the project before her party swept to power in 2015 elections, but in March last year she called on people to consider it "from a wider perspective".

An environmental assessment commissioned by the government five years ago advised against the dam's construction, saying it could alter the flow of the Irrawaddy River.

Myitsone is one of several Beijing-backed projects in Myanmar, including a deep-sea port in Rakhine state's Kyaukphyu that will serve as China's gateway to the Indian Ocean.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Suu Kyi visits border region ahead of Xi visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe