BEIJING—Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, facing growing international criticism over her country’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims, said last Friday that her government has made progress in creating a peaceful society but acknowledged that “much still remains to be done.”
In remarks on a visit to Beijing, Suu Kyi did not directly address the crisis that has seen more than 620,000 Rohingya flee the country over the last few months in what the United Nations and the United States say is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar.
Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest during the nation’s military rule, has come under widespread criticism for not speaking out against the violence. But she was warmly welcomed in China, Myanmar’s friendly northern neighbor, including when she met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday.
Suu Kyi spoke at a gathering of political parties hosted by China’s ruling Communist Party and said her National League for Democracy-led government “has made progress in its endeavors to create a peaceful, stable and harmonious society.”
“But much still remains to be done,” she added.
China has avoided criticizing the crisis, and state media did not say whether the issue was discussed during her meeting with Xi. The two leaders hailed the potential for future cooperation through a “China-Myanmar economic corridor,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Suu Kyi’s visit comes just a week after Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of Myanmar’s military, held his own talks with Xi in Beijing. Myanmar’s army remains politically powerful, and the civilian government has no control over certain areas, such as defense and national security. Analysts said Beijing has likely won greater leverage over Myanmar by helping shield it from criticism over the Rohingya crisis.
“Myanmar has leaned toward China because of international criticism and condemnation on Myanmar over the crisis,” said prominent Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein.
Beijing immediately saw that the crisis provided an opportunity for China to restructure a relationship that stalled after Myanmar began opening to the West earlier this decade, said David Mathieson, a former human-rights researcher who is now an independent analyst based in Myanmar. The international outrage and a UN human-rights investigation into Myanmar’s armed conflicts has “given Beijing the opportunity to redefine and rejuvenate its support for the Myanmar state—but at a hefty price,” Mathieson said.
China was a longstanding friend of Myanmar during the Southeast Asian country’s isolation from the West, and its present interests in the country include security along China’s southern border, access to Myanmar’s natural resources and the construction of dams, pipelines and other projects.
Among the biggest, a recently opened pipeline running through Myanmar carries oil from the Middle East and the Caucuses to China’s landlocked Yunnan province, allowing it to bypass the Malacca Strait. The pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, the epicenter of the anti-Rohingya violence.
Chinese projects have been blamed for uprooting villagers and harming the environment, factors that led Myanmar in 2011 to suspend the $3.6-billion Myitsone dam primarily funded by Chinese energy interests. The suspension remains a sore point, and China is eager to see resumption of work on the project, which had hardly broken ground when it was stopped.
Although Suu Kyi’s delegation includes the country’s minister of electricity and energy, real progress on the dam issue is unlikely, said Yan Myo Thein, the analyst.
“There is only a small possibility that this particular dam project will be implemented under a Suu Kyi-led government because it’s a controversial national project,” he said.
Instead, the two sides may discuss alternative projects such as a road serving the Kuming-Mandalay-Yangon-Kyaukphyu economic platform, he said.
Xi and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen were also among those who addressed the gathering at the Great Hall of the People, the hulking seat of China’s legislature in the heart of Beijing. Other participants included US Republican National Committee Treasurer Tony Parker.
The gathering of delegates representing more than 200 political parties from around the world was hosted by China’s ruling Communist Party, which last month reappointed Xi to a second five-year term as its leader.