Freshly appointed as Myanmar’s new “state adviser” by the president and parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is understood to be the country’s de facto executive, has begun planning for Myanmar’s future. In her other capacity as foreign minister, Suu Kyi met with Chinese officials to discuss a stalled dam project Beijing hopes to build in the country:
Last month, China said it would push Myanmar’s new government to resume the controversial dam scheme, saying the contract was still valid.Former Myanmar president Thein Sein angered Beijing in 2011 by suspending the Chinese-invested Myitsone dam project, about 90 percent of whose power would have gone to China.Other Chinese projects in the former Burma have proved controversial, among them the Letpadaung copper mine, which has repeatedly sparked protests from people living nearby, and twin Chinese oil and gas pipelines across the country.With close trade and economic ties between the two countries, it was natural there would be “certain problems”, Wang said, according to a statement by China’s Foreign Ministry late on Tuesday.“Myself and Foreign Minister Suu Kyi reached a consensus, that all problems can find an appropriate resolution via friendly consultations,” it quoted Wang as saying, without mentioning specific projects.
Beijing sounds optimistic, but it’s difficult to read Suu Kyi, who remains notably vague about all of her plans. The dam will be an important indicator of which way she may take the country.Many international observers have focused on Myanmar’s democratic elections and human rights provisions—and an ever-present Rohingya problem which doesn’t look likely to disappear. But, from America’s perspective, Myanmar’s political transition has also always been about its relationship with China. Will the U.S.-supported opening put some distance between Myanmar and Beijing, or are Chinese officials right to believe that Suu Kyi will strengthen ties? The relative success of Myanmar’s transition depends on what happens next.