Xi vows to bolster ties with Myanmar to ‘new level’ as China eyes opening into Indian Ocean
Nay Pyi Taw: President Xi Jinping on Friday vowed to take China’s ties with Myanmar to a “new level” during his maiden visit, which aims at boosting the Communist giant’s investments in mammoth infrastructure projects, including a USD 1.3-million port deal that will provide Beijing a stepping stone to the Indian Ocean.
On his arrival in Myanmar, the first by a Chinese leader in 19 years, President Xi received a royal welcome with two fighter jets escorting his plane after it entered the country’s airspace.
As his plane touched down in Nay Pyi Taw, children presented him flowers before he was whisked off to a greeting party, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Huge portraits of the Chinese President and banners celebrating the China-Myanmar friendship and cooperation were put up along Xi’s route from the airport to downtown.
According to Xinhua, Xi told Myanmar leaders that he was convinced that his visit will “take the bilateral ties to a new level and into a new era”.
China, which for decades has maintained close ties with Myanmar military even when the Myanmar State Counsellor, Suu Kyi, was incarcerated for years, has again became an important ally to fend off global isolation of Nay Pyi Taw in the wake of the Rohingya crisis.
During his trip, Xi is expected to sign a series of infrastructure agreements as part of his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which critics say, is saddling nations with debt.
India has been severely critical of the BRI as it comprises the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
A key deal which the Chinese President is expected to finalise with Myanmar is the USD 1.3 billion project to develop the Kyaukphyu port, which will provide China a stepping stone to the Indian Ocean, besides energy security.
Some reports said that the two countries have already reached an agreement on the deep-sea port project in 2018.
China has already acquired the Gwadar port in Pakistan, followed by Hambantota in Sri Lanka in India’s backyard.
China’s Ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, on Sunday last said Xi was expected to oversee the signing of several deals during a two-day visit, including possibly putting the final piece of the puzzle in the USD 1.3 billion port deal, negotiations for which have been going on for several years, according to a report in Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Once completed, the facility on the Bay of Bengal will provide Beijing with a direct link to oil supplies from the Middle East, as Kyaukphyu is at one end of a massive oil and natural gas pipeline network that runs all the way to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province, it said.
The direct link will provide an alternative route for China’s energy imports avoiding the Malacca Strait, which links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea but has become a flashpoint for Sino-Indian maritime rivalry, the report said.
A high-speed rail project to connect the port and nearby planned industrial zone with the countries’ shared border is also on the cards.
President Jinping and Suu Kyi had a meeting at Myanmar’s presidential palace during which the two leaders had a cordial and friendly talk, the Xinhua reported.
They agreed to have an in-depth exchange of views on China-Myanmar relations and issues of mutual concern on Saturday.
Before the talk, upon his arrival at the presidential palace, the Chinese President inspected a guard of honour in the company of his Myanmar counterpart U Win Myint.
Under attack from the global community over human rights violations by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya Muslims leading to their mass exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar pulled out all the stops to accord red carpet welcome to Xi.
The silence of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace prize winner, over the Rohingya crisis has come under intense global criticism.
The International Court of Justice, where Gambia has filed a case of genocide against Myanmar, on Wednesday said it will deliver its decision next week on whether emergency measures should be imposed on Myanmar over alleged genocide against its Rohingya Muslims.
“I think there are numerous expectations for Xi’s visit, but there is also trepidation that the high-level visit is predicated on China cashing in on its diplomatic support for Myanmar over the Rakhine crisis, and unsticking stalled CMEC (China-Myanmar Economic Corridor) projects,” said David Mathieson, an analyst based in Yangon.
“The Western opprobrium heaped on Myanmar was not mired by China, who balanced its strategic interests with shoring up support for the NLD government, and now it’s time for China to use that support to get its trade and infrastructure projects moving faster,” he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.