China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi receives Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2020

China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties
  • Xi is expected to sign a series of deals

NAYPYIDAW: Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to usher in a “new era” of ties with Myanmar after a red carpet welcome Friday on a state visit aimed at buttressing the embattled government of Aung San Suu Kyi and driving through multibillion-dollar infrastructure deals.

Myanmar fighter jets escorted Xi’s plane as it touched down in Naypyidaw where children presented him with flowers, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, as he was whisked off to a greeting party.

In addition to being its largest investor, China has become an indispensable ally for Myanmar as it reels from Western isolation over the Rohingya crisis.

But widespread mistrust of Beijing’s ambitions and its influence over armed insurgencies in areas bordering the two countries threaten to undermine the bond.

Xi told Myanmar leaders he was “convinced that the concerted efforts of our two sides will make this visit a success and take the bilateral ties to a new level and into a new era,” Xinhua reported.

During the trip he is expected to sign a series of mammoth infrastructure deals as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The centerpiece of the so-called China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is a $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine state, giving Beijing a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

A high-speed rail link is also on the cards to connect the port and nearby planned industrial zone with the countries’ shared border.

Bilateral trade was worth $16.8 billion last year and Beijing holds the biggest share — around $4 billion or 40 percent — of Myanmar’s foreign debt.

Billions of cubic meters of gas and millions of barrels of oil from offshore rigs are pumped each year across the country into China.

“The next one, two, three decades will be defined by Myanmar’s relationship with China,” said Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey.

Xi will sit down with Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing in separate meetings on Saturday.

Ahead of the visit Suu Kyi made a rare appearance in Kachin state on the border with China.

Kachin is the site of a planned Chinese-backed $3.6 billion, 6,000 megawatt dam that was mothballed in 2011 in the face of vociferous criticism across the country.

This is thought to have been a personal slight to Xi, who signed off on the Myitsone dam with Myanmar’s then-military junta as vice president in 2009.

Activists are expected to protest in the commercial hub Yangon on Saturday against any reinstatement of the project.

Economic interests aside, Myanmar’s relationship with the superpower has other benefits.

In an op-ed in Myanmar’s state-run media this week, Xi said China supports Myanmar in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity.”

China shields Myanmar at the United Nations, where pressure is mounting for accountability over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi personally defended her nation against accusations of genocide at the UN’s top court last month after a 2017 military crackdown forced 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.

The alleged atrocities took place in Rakhine, which has since descended into a civil war between the military and an ethnic Rakhine rebel group.

Myanmar has nonetheless declared the state open for business.

While many Western investors are steering clear, China — competing against other regional giants — has few such qualms.

“Xi’s visit will amplify concerns the West is losing Myanmar to China,” said Horsey.

Domestically, Suu Kyi needs economic wins as well as diplomatic support as she heads toward elections due at the end of this year.

Xi’s visit has triggered mixed reactions.

A number of key militant groups — known to be under the shadowy influence of Beijing — welcomed the summit.

But a plethora of activists spoke out against China’s projects and Amnesty International weighed in, decrying the “absolute lack of transparency.”

Rakhine locals, meanwhile, fear they will again be overlooked after previous Beijing-backed infrastructure projects left many without land or livelihoods.

“They didn’t bring any benefits for us, not even any jobs,” Moe Moe Aye from Kyaukphyu SEZ Watch Group said.


Historic K2 team make it back safely to base camp

Historic K2 team make it back safely to base camp
Updated 17 January 2021

Historic K2 team make it back safely to base camp

Historic K2 team make it back safely to base camp
  • Nirmal Purja: “The full team are now back... All safe and sound... It has been an overwhelming journey”
  • K2 is known as the “Savage Mountain” because of its punishing conditions: winds can blow at more than 200 kilometers per hour

ISLAMABAD: The triumphant team of Nepali climbers who made history when they became the first to summit Pakistan’s K2 in winter arrived safely back at base camp on Sunday, officials said.
The 10 climbers reached the top of the world’s second-highest mountain on Saturday, the last peak above 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) to be conquered in wintertime.
“All the 10 Nepali climbers arrived in the base camp this afternoon. They are in good health and relaxing,” Faizullah Firaq, a spokesperson for the Gilgit Baltistan government, told AFP.
One of the successful climbers, Nirmal Purja, who is also known as Nimsdai, posted on social media: “The full team are now back... All safe and sound... It has been an overwhelming journey.”
Thaneshwor Guragain from Seven Summit Treks, a leading mountaineering company behind one of the expeditions, said more climbers are still hoping to reach the top.


Unlike Mount Everest, which has been topped by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is a much lonelier place. But this winter, dozens of adventurers converged on the mountain hoping to take the record.
K2 is known as the “Savage Mountain” because of its punishing conditions: winds can blow at more than 200 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour), and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).
The descent can be just as dangerous as going up.
Saturday’s successful summit was overshadowed by the death of a Spanish climber from another team, Sergi Mingote, lower down the perilous peak.
His body was evacuated from base camp on Sunday to nearby Skardu city by an army helicopter, the Alpine Club of Pakistan’s Karrar Haidri told AFP.
Mingote was at an intermediate camp and fell on his way down to the base camp, injuring his leg, according to his team.
Purja said his team were “deeply saddened to hear that we have lost a friend” and added, “Rest in peace my brother!“
The 10 Nepali climbers had been spread across different expeditions at the start, but formed a new group in order to claim the summit in Nepal’s name, singing the national anthem as they reached the top.
Despite being famed for their climbing expertise, there has never before been a Nepali climber on the first winter ascent of a peak higher than 8,000 meters.