Newspaper article International New York Times

Myanmar Works to Repair Ties to China

Newspaper article International New York Times

Myanmar Works to Repair Ties to China

Article excerpt

After a period of cool relations, Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbor hope to repair ties, but Washington worries that it will lose influence in the region.

Hillary Clinton considers her a friend. President Obama has invited her to the White House next month. But on her first visit to a major capital since becoming leader of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi chose a different destination: Beijing.

With her arrival here late Wednesday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, credited with pushing Myanmar from a military dictatorship toward democracy, offered a potent signal that her foreign policy will be more friendly toward China, which is eager to strengthen its foothold in the country.

Her move risks unsettling Washington, because the Obama administration considers the democratic changes in Myanmar that brought Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to power to be one of its major foreign policy victories in Asia.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has long expressed her desire for friendly relations with China, and it's not insignificant that she has chosen to travel to Beijing before any other major capital," said Thant Myint-U, the author of "Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia."

He added: "The Chinese, whatever wariness they may have had, definitely sense the possibility of improved relations and will go all out to make this visit a success. This will be a historic visit that could well shape Sino-Myanmar relations for many years to come."

China's red-carpet welcome contrasts with how Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was treated when she was Myanmar's opposition leader. Last year, she was 20 minutes late for a meeting with President Xi Jinping, who reportedly told her that she was the first person ever to have kept him waiting so long.

China is pushing to install itself as the foremost power in Myanmar. Beijing is tailoring investment projects to suit the impoverished country and assuming an influential position as mediator in peace talks this month between rival ethnic groups and the government.

It is also hoping to restart the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, suspended in 2011 and a major source of friction between the two countries.

China views Myanmar as a strategic asset, so much so that some policy makers see Myanmar's long shoreline as its west coast. Its position close to the Indian Ocean offers a shortcut for oil and gas imports from the Middle East, and its rich mineral deposits and proximity all make it a logical part of China's sphere of influence in Southeast Asia.

In the days before her visit, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi sought to ease tensions over the suspension of the Chinese-financed Myitsone dam. By appointing a 20-member commission to review the suspension decision, and looking at other hydro projects as well, she is able to tell China that Myanmar no longer has a closed mind on the project, analysts said. …

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