Myanmar’s Suu Kyi visits China as crackdown criticism grows

Beijing: Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was set to meet President Xi Jinping on a visit to friendly neighbor China starting Friday as international criticism over her country’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims continues to grow.

China has studiously avoided criticizing the crisis and Suu Kyi can be expected to receive a warm welcome when she meets with Xi. China will also likely push for Myanmar to restart a dam project suspended after overwhelming local opposition.

Suu Kyi is in Beijing to attend a gathering of delegates from more than 200 political parties from around the world hosted by China’s ruling Communist Party. It wasn’t clear whether the Nobel Peace Prize laureate would speak at the gathering or when she would meet with Xi, who was reappointed last month to a second five-year term as Communist Party general secretary.

China was a longstanding friend of Myanmar during the Southeast Asian country’s isolation from the West, and has been helping shield it from criticism over the crisis that has seen more than 620,000 Rohingya flee Myanmar over the last few months.

Myanmar’s military has conducted a scorched earth campaign against the Rohingya that the United Nations and United States describe as “ethnic cleansing.” Refugees living in squalid conditions in camps in Bangladesh have described indiscriminate attacks by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist mobs, including killings, rapes and the torching of entire villages.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest during the nation’s long era of military rule, has come under widespread criticism for not speaking out against the violence, with some calling for her Nobel prize to be revoked. While Myanmar elected a new civilian government in 2015 led by Suu Kyi, the military continues to wield ultimate power.

China’s interests in Myanmar include the security along its southern border and access to natural resources.

A recently opened pipeline running through Myanmar carries oil from the Middle East and the Caucuses to China’s landlocked Yunnan province, allowing it to bypass the Malacca Strait. The pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, the epicenter of the anti-Rohingya violence.

Chinese projects have been blamed for uprooting villagers and harming the environment, factors that led Myanmar in 2011 to suspend the USD 3.6 billion Myitsone dam primarily funded by Chinese energy interests. The suspension remains a sore point and China is eager to see resumption of work on the project.

Although Suu Kyi’s delegation includes the country’s minister of electricity and energy, real progress on the dam issue is unlikely, said prominent Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein.

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