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Economy tipped to dominate Suu Kyi’s first visit to China

Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to promote economic ties when she makes her first visit to China next week as Myanmar’s foreign ­minister.

Myanmese authorities said Suu Kyi would arrive in Beijing on Wednesday for a four-day trip, her first outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The visit comes about a month ahead of her trip to the United States, and observers say economic cooperation will be top of the agenda in her talks with Chinese leaders.

Myanmar’s government released a long-awaited but vague economic policy paper last month, pledging support for agriculture, industry and infrastructure development. But there were few details on how it will boost the nation’s economy.

Despite Myanmar dam blockage, China confident about ties with Suu Kyi government

Zhang Xuegang, a Southeast Asian affairs specialist at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Suu Kyi’s main goal was to solicit more financial support from China and improve economic cooperation between two countries.

China, as an economic powerhouse in the region and Myanmar’s biggest foreign investor, has much at stake in the country. But some Chinese-backed projects have run into roadblocks and Myanmar is also more open to investment from other nations such as Japan.

Beijing is keen to resolve problems with the controversial US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, which was put on hold after public opposition.

It and other Chinese-backed projects have also come under fire for damaging the environment.

Oh Ei-sun, senior fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the dam had become a stumbling block in the bilateral relationship in the past few years.

“But it may not be realistic to assume that it could be resolved as a result of this visit, as the issue involves many dimensions such as environmental concerns, displacement of indigenous peoples, and the economic benefits for Myanmar,” Oh said.

Suu Kyi’s visit comes two weeks ahead of Myanmar’s long-planned potential cornerstone of its peace process, the 21st Century Panglong Conference, which involves the Myanmese government, the military and armed ethnic groups.

International relations scholar Simon Shen said: “Besides financial support, the Chinese influence over the separatist military in Myanmar is also part of the bargain. If Suu Kyi can stabilise the separatists, then her autonomy from military can be enhanced.”

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