By Wang Wenwen
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi kicked off her five-day visit to China Wednesday. It is her first to Beijing as well as her foreign debut outside ASEAN after taking office in April.
Contrary to the subjective view that a democratic Myanmar will lean toward the West, Suu Kyi’s visit to China carries significant weight in Myanmar’s foreign policymaking.
Suu Kyi’s visit to China in June 2015 as chair of the National League for Democracy (NLD) paved the way for improved ties and cooperation between her party and China at a time when Myanmar’s relations with China were tense due to the fighting between the Myanmese government and ethnic rebel troops that caused casualties on the Chinese side of the border.
Frontier, a mainstream Myanmar media outlet, ran a commentary on Sunday, saying that the first 100 days since the NLD-led government took office were satisfactory and the continued support it managed to get from neighboring countries such as China can be regarded as a success.
But China should not take Myanmar’s positive gestures for granted. While Myanmar attaches great importance to its relations with China, it also bears enormous significance for China’s interest. Myanmar’s ethnic reconciliation will be vital in keeping peace and stability in China’s border areas.
After the South China Sea arbitration, China needs to mend its ties with neighboring countries and rearrange its policies. In the case of Myanmar, there is great potential for bilateral cooperation.
China is expected to play a more constructive role in Myanmar’s ethnic reconciliation process. The fate of the long-halted Myitsone Dam project, an iconic Chinese investment project in Myanmar, is still hanging in the balance.
Meanwhile, China can change its industrial focus in Myanmar – from energy and minerals to infrastructure and labor-intensive agriculture. Strategic change is also feasible as more education and medical training for local staff from commercial ventures will boost China’s soft power in the country and beyond.
Back in 2009, China launched the “bridgehead” strategy which aims to build Yunnan Province into a bridgehead connecting China with Southeast and South Asia.
The essence of this “bridgehead” strategy is recalibration of China’s Myanmar policy – by rearranging diplomacy, finance, trade, border security and Chinese companies in Myanmar, and coordinating interests between local governments and the central government, between State-owned enterprises and private businesses, and between different departments.
Now China has the grander initiative of the “Belt and Road” which aims to advance the economic future of the whole region. It should readapt its policies under the new circumstances to serve this goal.
Deepening ties with Myanmar serves China’s interests
By Wang Wenwen