Chinese President Xi Jinping called for progress in ties between China and Myanmar as he met Aung San Suu Kyi in Beijing on Friday at the start of a trip overshadowed by the suspension of the US$3.6 billion China-backed Myitsone dam project.
Xi also called for both sides to work together to ensure the smooth operation of existing large Chinese projects in Myanmar.
“China attaches great importance to developing relations with Myanmar,” Xi said.
“We should adhere to the correct direction, push for new progress in bilateral relations and bring tangible benefits to the two peoples.”
Xi also said China hoped to improve cooperation in areas such as energy and finance and was willing to play a “constructive role in promoting Myanmar’s peace process and make joint efforts to ensure peace and stability on the China-Myanmar border”.
Suu Kyi said both sides were “advancing relations and deepening mutual understanding and friendship”.
China has rolled out the red carpet for the de facto leader of the newly democratic country, including meetings with Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang.
Song Junying, an expert on Southeast Asia affairs from the China Institute of International Studies, said there was little hope the Myitsone project could be revived and Xi wanted to make sure there was not a similar case in the future.
“Among all the choices, resumption of the dam has the lowest possibility. Because the Myitsone dam project has been halted for a long time and was seen by Myanmar’s people as a symbol of democratic success,” Song said.
“Myanmar’s government will probably choose to make a payout to the Chinese side, and open up other sites for China to build hydro dams.”
A Chinese state radio report yesterday paraphrased Suu Kyi as saying a recently formed commission would try to find the “best resolution” to the dam issue, though she said she had no way of knowing what that was.
The hydropower project was suspended in 2011 by former Myanmese president Thein Sein, after it drew widespread protests by local communities who complained that the project damaged the environment and brought them few tangible benefits.
China has been pushing for work to restart on the dam, which lies at the confluence of two northern rivers in the Irawaddy River basin and would have sent 90 per cent of its power to China under the original plans.
Suu Kyi leads Myanmar’s government with the title of state counsellor after her party won elections last year.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters