Cover image via Straits Times

China will support Myanmar’s choice of developmental path, Premier Li Keqiang told visiting de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was accorded a welcome ceremony normally reserved for heads of government.

In her meeting with Mr Li, Ms Suu Kyi is reported to have said that she is open to working towards a resolution for a suspended Beijing- backed dam project that will “suit both sides’ interests”.

China is the first country outside South-east Asia that the 71-year-old Ms Suu Kyi – who holds the post of state counsellor and is also Foreign Minister – visited after her National League for Democracy (NLD) took power in April. The five-day visit that began on Wednesday is Ms Suu Kyi’s second in two years.

This shows that “the Myanmar government and you highly value our ties,” Mr Li said at a reception at the Great Hall of the People. “China appreciates that.”

Noting that China and Myanmar are linked by mountains and rivers, Mr Li said that Sino-Myanmar ties, often referred to as paukphaw in the Myanmar language, meaning fraternal or kinsfolk , have been close. He noted that both countries have always treated each other as equals and maintained mutual respect.

While the mineral-rich country has relied on Beijing for economic and diplomatic support during decades of Western sanctions under military rule, the warm ties have taken a hit since the previous government began democratic reforms in 2010 and appeared to have leaned away from China towards the West.

Ms Suu Kyi’s choice of visiting China after Laos and Thailand, ahead of her visit to the United States next month, signals her intention to improve ties with her powerful northern neighbour.

China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and a major investor with committed investments of US$25.4 billion (S$34 billion) as at end-July, which are nearly 40 per cent of all foreign investments in the country.

Ms Suu Kyi told Mr Li that she hopes ties can be “further consolidated and developed”, especially in areas such as energy. Both countries signed deals in areas including water conservancy, energy, health care and education yesterday.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters after the talks that Ms Suu Kyi had assured Mr Li that she would look into resolving the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, which has been suspended since 2011 due to protests over environmental concerns.

Ms Suu Kyi will meet President Xi Jinping today and visit other Chinese cities before wrapping up her visit on Sunday.