TEMPO.CO, Yangon - China's President Xi Jinping will visit Myanmar on Friday to ink massive infrastructure deals and extend influence in a neighbor whose ties with the West were frayed by accusations that it conducted genocidal policies against ethnic Rohingya Muslims.
Making his first visit to the Southeast Asian country as a leader, and the first of any Chinese president in 19 years, analysts say Xi will bid to revive stalled multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects central to his flagship Belt and Road Initiative described as a "21st century Silk Road".
He is scheduled to meet state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyitaw, as well as the heads of minor political parties.
The two countries have had a historically sometimes fraught relationship, with many in Myanmar suspicious of the tremendous sway China holds over its smaller neighbor.
Relations have warmed since China avoided joining in the international condemnation of Myanmar after a military campaign in 2017 forced more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
U.N. officials said the Myanmar military offensive was executed with “genocidal intent”, though Myanmar says it was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation launched after militant attacks on security forces.
A permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China has defended Myanmar on the global stage and is viewed as the biggest obstacle to the prosecution of its leaders at an international war crimes tribunal.
China is the second-biggest investor in Myanmar, behind only Singapore, according to data published by the World Bank. Myanmar's exports to China, its largest trading partner, was worth $5.5 billion in 2018, while imports were worth $6.2 billion.
“No other country is investing in Myanmar except China,” said Hla Kyaw Zaw, a political analyst based in Yunnan province on the Myanmar-China border. “China can negotiate a good deal with Myanmar,” she said.
Chinese vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui told reporters in Beijing on Friday the purpose of the visit was to strengthen relations, deepen Belt and Road co-operation and “materialize” the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a plan for a y-shaped corridor of projects connecting China with the Indian Ocean.
“Preparations are underway and you will see the historic outcomes and influence of this historic visit,” Luo said.