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Htin Kyaw departs on visit to China

President Htin Kyaw, centre, and First Lady Su Su Lwin, in pink, are greeted by a farewell delegation at the airport on Thursday morning. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

President Htin Kyaw and First Lady Su Su Lwin departed for China on Thursday morning for a visit at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart.

Among other items on the agenda, Htin Kyaw will discuss shared border issues with Chinese officials, Burma’s President’s Office announced, including ongoing conflict between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups that has occasionally spilled over into China.

The president is being accompanied by cabinet officials including State Counsellor’s Office Minister Kyaw Tint Swe and the Union ministers for commerce and construction, Than Myint and Win Khine, respectively.

The President’s Office announcement did not indicate whether the suspended, Chinese-backed Myitsone mega-dam would be on the agenda for Htin Kyaw’s visit. Reuters reported this week that the president would discuss a possible deal on the stalled project, which many in Burma want to see scrapped. China had already invested up to $800 million in the dam before construction was suspended by former President Thein Sein in 2011, and Beijing has continued to push for its resumption under his successor.

In August, the President’s Office announced the formation of a commission to study Myitsone and offer recommendations on the project’s fate in a report expected later this year.

The commission will report to Htin Kyaw, but his authority to make a decision based on the findings is understood to be nominal only, with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi having the ultimate say. In a telling indicator of the power dynamics at play, she visited China ahead of Htin Kyaw, in August.

Kyaw Tint Swe, a member of the delegation accompanying the president this week, is the deputy chair of the Myitsone commission.

Since he was elected president about one year ago, Htin Kyaw has made visits to Laos, India, Vietnam and Cambodia.