Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Myanmar next week, the first in 2020

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By Li Xuanmin Source:Global Times

Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Myanmar from January 17-18 on invitation from Myanmar President U Win Myint, China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Friday. It will be Xi’s first state visit of 2020, and also the first state visit to Myanmar by a Chinese President in 19 years.

As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-Myanmar diplomatic relations, Chinese observers and business representatives believe the visit, a good start for China’s neighborhood diplomacy in the new year, will embody China’s commitment to building a community with a shared future. It will also serve as example of how Asian economies are joining hands to resist international pressure and pursue an independent and prosperous development path.

“The world is undergoing mounting uncertainties and rising protectionism. Xi’s visit will increase mutual political trust between China and Myanmar, and cement economic ties under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), bringing bilateral relations into the new era. It will also showcase a model of win-win cooperation based on mutual respect and equal footing,” Liu Yin, chairman of the Myanmar-China Entrepreneur Association, told the Global Times.

The relationship between China and Myanmar is of strategic importance to China’s neighborhood diplomacy, as it was and will be an example of “harmonious neighborly relations” – one of the top reasons analysts believe the Chinese leader has chosen the nation for his first state visit of the new year.

Myanmar was the first non-communist country to recognize the People’s Republic of China after its foundation in 1949. The Southeast Asian country was also the first to resolve its boundary issues with China.

Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that from a geopolitical point of view, Myanmar is also at an important geographic position on China’s inland southbound route to the Indian Ocean.

“The deep-sea Kyaukpyu port in western Myanmar is one of the most important sea gates through which China could access the Indian Ocean,” Xu said.

During Myanmar’s process of democratization, the Southeast Asian country was once derailed. In 2015, when Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi came into power, China’s relations with Myanmar frayed partly due to sway from Western forces.

But after some turbulence, Myanmar realized there were double standards in the approach Western countries take on human rights issues and began to turn to China for diplomatic and economic help. “It is China who is willing to pull Myanmar from the sludge, rather than the Western world that badmouths the nation,” Dai Yonghong, director of the Institute of the Bay of Bengal Studies at Shenzhen University, told the Global Times.

Currently, China-Myanmar relations are gaining a good momentum, with broad cooperation in political, trade, investment, tourism, military and people-to-people exchanges. The two nations’ vigorous relationship is now underpinned by a broad consensus between the two nations.

“China supports Myanmar in maintaining an independent development path, while Myanmar upholds the one-China principle, recognizing and actively participating in the China-proposed BRI. As Myanmar is at a period of political and economic transformation, it is natural that it wants to join hands with China to cope with external pressures, and keep initiatives at its own hands,” Liu explained.

Increased cooperation

In 2013, China and Myanmar formed a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. Dai said that Xi’s visit will enrich the partnership and deepen the enduring “paukphaw (fraternal) friendship” between the two countries.

It is possible that the two sides will agree to advance the building of a community with a shared future to achieve new outcomes, analysts said. Last year, China agreed upon active plans with Laos and Cambodia to build a community with a shared future.

Today, large-scale infrastructure projects undertaken by Chinese firms in Myanmar – under the BRI and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor – are mired in controversy, with some even triggering local demonstrations due to environmental issues as well as interference from Westerners and non-government organizations.

While recognizing that such disputes are a major hurdle when forging closer economic ties, Chinese analysts noted Xi’s visit could resolve many disputes and steer some suspended infrastructure projects back on the right track.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine project, jointly established by China and Myanmar, was once the target of protests. But now peace has been restored, and the project is offering thousands of job opportunities to local residents and contributing to their well-being.

Dai said the mining project is a vivid example of how cooperation with China under the BRI can benefit the Southeast Asian economy.

“It will offer Myanmar more economic development opportunities, tapping into China’s huge market,” Dai said.

Chinese companies will also assist in more of Myanmar’s infrastructure projects, such as New Yangon City – a major urban planning project in Yangon – and the operation of Kyaukpyu port, according to analysts.

The visit will also be an opportunity for trade volume between China and Myanmar to see a new peak this year under the framework of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.

As China and Myanmar now share a border more than 2,000 kilometers long, a higher-level economic cooperation zone may be established in border areas to facilitate the export of Myanmar goods such as watermelons, rice and textile products to China, Dai predicted.

In the first nine months of 2019, the trade volume between China and Myanmar grew 17.9 percent year-on-year to $13.54 billion, according to data from China’s Ministry of Commerce.

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