Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in China for critical talks

Foreign minister and de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Thursday, the first of a four-day visit that comes at a critical juncture in relations between the neighbouring nations.

Analysts said Suu Kyi's second trip outside of Myanmar since the activist-turned-politician's National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power this year will be a test of her diplomatic skills.

"The stakes are very high," wrote analyst Yun Sun in a commentary for the Washington-based Transnational Institute. "The outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi’s meetings could well come to define Myanmar-China relations for many years to come."

Her acceptance of an invitation from Li marked another milestone in Suu Kyi's tricky transition - from a Nobel prize-winning icon of democracy to a pragmatic national politician willing to overlook China's backing of the regime that held her under house arrest for 15 years.

Myanmar held its first openly contested elections in 2015 after a half century of military rule, and the former pariah state has seen international sanctions lifted.

Suu Kyi needs China's help with her August 31 peace and national reconciliation talks between ethnic armed groups, the government and the military.

In exchange for cooperation on border issues, China will likely seek support for its hotly disputed claims to most of the South China Sea. Suu Kyi is expected to hold talks with President Xi Jinping later this week.

Chinese state media reported that one of the main topics in the meeting between Suu Kyi and Li was Beijing's desire for a fresh start for the long-stalled, Chinese-backed Myitsone hydroelectric dam project.

The two agreed to set up a commission to resolve issues surrounding the dam, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The 6,000-megawatt plant was to be built in the Kachin State, at the start of the Irrawaddy river that flows the length of the country to the rice-growing delta region.

The dam was opposed by Kachin people, conservationists, farmers who depend on the Irrawaddy for irrigation and Suu Kyi herself.

Myanmar scrapped it in 2011, prompting protest from China. Ninety per cent of the electricty generated would have gone to China, allowing the country to reduce its dependency on dirty coal-fired plants.

Last update: Thu, 18/08/2016 - 16:21

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