China’s president pledges to support Myanmar peace talks

20 August 2016
China’s president pledges to support Myanmar peace talks
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) lead their delegations in a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, 19 August 2016. Photo: EPA

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to support Myanmar's peace process Friday as he met with the country's de facto leader Aung San SuuKyi in Beijing ahead of historic talks with armed groups near the countries' troubled joint border.
During the sitdown between the leaders Xi pledged to "play a constructive role in promoting Myanmar's peace process" the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"China attaches great importance to developing relations with Myanmar," Xi said, according to an official statement.
Myanmar will hold a long-planned conference with armed ethnic groups later this month, with SuuKyi targeting peace as a prelude to rebooting the economy after her party won a landslide election victory.
"As a good neighbour, China will do everything possible to promote our peace process," SuuKyi told reporters in Beijing ahead of meeting China's President Xi Jinping.
China's goodwill was particularly important as the two countries share "a very important border along which there are many ethnic armed groups;" she added.
Several complex ethnic conflicts -- with some groups fighting the government for decades -- simmer across Myanmar's poor and militarised borderlands, hampering efforts to build up the country's economy after the end of junta rule.
Some of the groups have ethnic and cultural links to the neighbouring Chinese province of Yunnan, and the porous border is notorious for trade in drugs, arms and precious stones.
"If you ask me what my most important aim is for my country, that is to achieve peace and unity among the different peoples of our union," SuuKyi said. "Without peace, there can be no sustained development".
However, SuuKyi's first major foreign trip since her civilian administration took power in March has been dominated by the $3.6 billion Beijing-backed Myitsone dam, on hold since protests in 2011.
China has been pressing for its resumption ever since.
SuuKyi confirmed that Myanmar had set up a committee to review the project, without saying whether it would be resumed.
Beijing was instrumental in shielding Myanmar's former junta rulers from international sanctions while SuuKyi, now State Counsellor, languished for over a decade under house arrest as a democracy activist.
At the time Myitsone -- originally designed to supply most of its electricity to China -- was seen as emblematic of Beijing's economic dominance over Myanmar.
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."
The newspaper, which is close to the ruling Communist Party 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 said.
Myanmar has drawn closer to the United States during its transition to civilian rule.
But the state-run China Daily said in an editorial that SuuKyi's visit showed she was a "political realist" who realises the importance of "reassuring" China.
SuuKyi insisted that she would pursue the same "non-aligned" foreign policy as her predecessors.
Domestically, job creation and agricultural development were top priorities following her administration's first 100 days in office, she said.
She vowed to follow a different development strategy than the export-led model favoured by China and other East Asian countries.
"There are many people who still think that the way to economic development is through garment factories," she said.
"But I sometimes wonder if that is very 20th century, and we're now in the 21st century".