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Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will visit China for the first time next week, Beijing and her party said Friday, at a time of cooling relations between the once closely-bonded nations.
Beijing was a key backer of Burma’s military junta while it was under Western sanctions, but conflict in a border area as well as fears over resource-grabbing by China have chilled ties.
Since launching reforms in 2011, Burmese President Thein Sein has also reached out to the United States, which is hankering after friends in Southeast Asia.
Suu Kyi’s opposition party is set to contest elections in November, which the US has backed as a key stepping stone towards democracy in a nation cloistered from the world for decades by the former junta.
“At the invitation of the Communist Party of China, a delegation of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar [Burma] led by Chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi will pay a visit to China from June 10th to 14th,” China’s ruling Communist Party said on an official website.
Suu Kyi has been feted by world leaders on her regular travels abroad in recent years but it was not clear from the statement which Chinese officials she would meet.
But confirming the visit Nyan Win, spokesman from her National League for Democracy Party, said he understood that “she will meet with the President [Xi Jinping] and Chinese premier Li Keqiang”.
Suu Kyi became one of the world’s most famous political prisoners during her house arrest for much of the 1990s and 2000s because of her outspoken opposition to military rule.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Although her star power is expected to steer her party to an election victory this November, Suu Kyi is barred by a junta-scripted clause in the constitution from the presidency – a clause she is battling to change.
Her global image as an upholder of human rights has also lost some of its lustre and she has been criticised by rights groups for a slow and measured response to the plight of Burma’s unwanted Rohingya Muslims who are at the centre of a migrant crisis engulfing the region.
While in Beijing, she will likely face calls to raise the case of fellow Nobel laureate Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for circulating a petition calling for democratic reforms.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, an accolade that angered China.
In recent months relations between China and Burma have cooled as an ethnic insurgency raging in the southeast Asian country spilled over its border with the Asian giant.
Conflict in the Kokang region, where ethnic Chinese rebels are fighting the Burma army, has claimed scores of lives.
In March a Burma warplane dropped a bomb in a sugarcane field, killing five Chinese people and injuring eight others.
Beijing was infuriated and responded by sending fighter jets to patrol the border area, with its Premier Li Keqiang promising to “resolutely” protect citizens.
Economic issues have also strained the hitherto tight bonds between the two countries, more so as reforms expose the once junta-run nation to protests and public opinion.
In a surprise move Thein Sein in 2012 ordered work on the huge US$3.6-billion Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam to stop after local protests, sparking anger in Beijing.
Anti-China sentiment frequently emerges in impoverished Burma, where many fear its larger neighbour is hoovering up the country’s vast resources, from rare woods and jade to water.
China, keen to assert its economic clout in the region, agreed last year to pump billions of dollars into Burma’s emerging economy, including into building power plants and granting soft loans.