NAYPYIDAW, MYANMAR (AFP) – China and Myanmar inked dozens of mammoth infrastructure and trade deals after a meeting yesterday between President Xi Jinping and fallen rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi, as Beijing doubles down on its support for a government under fire for its treatment of Rohingya.
The Chinese leader’s two-day state visit to Myanmar’s purpose-built capital comes as Western investors cast a wide berth around the country due to the Rohingya crisis.
A 2017 military crackdown on the minority, which United Nations (UN) investigators have called genocide, forced some 740,000 people over the border into Bangladesh.
Beijing has stood strongly beside Myanmar and the Asian giant is now the country’s largest investor even as distrust of its ambitions lingers among the public.
More than 30 agreements were signed yesterday on Xi’s final day of his visit – with Suu Kyi and Xi seated across from each other on long tables alongside related ministers.
Details on the amount of the package were scant but among the 33 deals was a concession and shareholders agreement on the USD1.3 billion-dollar Kyaukhphyu deep-sea port and economic zone.
There was also a letter of intent for “new urban development” in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon and feasibility studies for rail links.
The aim is to carve out a so-called “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor” – a path of infrastructure from China’s landlocked south to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state which would serve as Beijing’s long-awaited gateway to the Indian Ocean.
The elaborate signing ceremony came between sit-down meetings with Suu Kyi and powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who stands accused of masterminding the Rohingya crackdown.
After arriving on Friday Xi called the visit a “historical moment” for relations between the two neighbours, according to state-run newspaper the Global New Light of Myanmar.
He also touched on the “unfairness and inequality in international relations” in what could be seen as a slight against the United States, which has sanctioned the army chief.
Myanmar leader Suu Kyi – whose reputation lays in tatters in the West’s eyes due to her defence of the army over the Rohingya crisis – said the country will always be at China’s side.