Written by Stephanie Li
The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar announced on January 10 that President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Myanmar this week to sign infrastructure and investment agreements and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.
Xi’s visit on January 17-18 will be his first in his current capacity. He is scheduled to meet with President Win Myint as well as Myanmar’s de facto leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper quoted ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai as saying on Sunday.
President Xi plans to use the visit to build up contact with different stakeholders, including Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and parliamentary and party leaders.
With 2020 marking the 70th anniversary of mutual diplomatic recognition, Xi’s visit is expected to bolster bilateral ties. He is also expected to push for investment and infrastructure projects including the Myitsone Dam, China-Myanmar Economic Corridor scheme and other projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
From oil pipelines linking Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State to Kunming in the Chinese province of Yunnan to a deep-water port leading to the Indian Ocean, China has sought to expand its ambitions to a region with constant armed conflicts.
Despite the challenges, during Xi’s two-day visit the two countries are expected to sign a $1.3 million deal on the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port, which is strategically and economically fundamental to stepping up the development of China’s inland provinces. Part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the project also includes a special economic zone along with the port.
The Myanmar government signed a framework agreement with China’s state-owned consortium CITIC group in November 2018, but it fell short of a concession-granting accord.
Deputy Commerce Minister U Aung Htoo told reporters in Naypyidaw that there are seven agreements under the accord, two of which will be signed during Xi’s visit. He added that other memoranda of understanding will also be signed, including on exports of crops and cattle.
On Sunday, the State Counselor made a rare trip to the northern Kachin State close to the China border, where the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project was suspended in 2011 due to widespread opposition.
She did not mention the dam, while China’s vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui said at a press conference last Friday that both countries were “still maintaining close communication” on the project.
China is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar. Approved Chinese investments from 1988 to October 30, 2019 amounted to nearly $21 billion.