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Suu Kyi in Vietnam for APEC summit

Vietnamese police officers stand next to a sign near the venue of the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, on 9 November 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday arrived in Vietnam, where she will brush shoulders with a host of regional leaders and will likely have her first in-person encounter with US President Donald Trump at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the coastal town of Da Nang.

Suu Kyi, who also serves as foreign minister, has faced growing international pressure over Burma’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, including from the US State Department. Closer to home, majority-Muslim ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed concern for the deteriorating situation in Rakhine State, and neighbouring Bangladesh has urged Burma to take back the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have surged across its border since late August.

Suu Kyi met Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang on Thursday, and Canadian media have reported that she is due to meet that country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, on Friday.

The series of yearly APEC meetings typically focus on economic issues affecting the bloc’s membership and matters related to Rakhine are not expected to feature prominently, if at all, but the ongoing crisis has had transnational financial repercussions; in early October, aid groups sought more than $400 million to support the influx of refugees to Bangladesh over the following six months.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama sought to portray the United States’ support for Burma’s political transition as a signature foreign policy achievement. Obama invited Suu Kyi for a White House visit in September 2016, when he announced that long-standing sanctions against scores of Burmese nationals and companies would be dropped, capping a thawing of relations that his administration put in motion years earlier.

US lawmakers are now considering re-imposing some targeted sanctions against members of Burma’s military in response to its counter-insurgency operations in Rakhine State, which began on 25 August in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on some 30 police posts there.

The state counsellor is being accompanied on her trip to the APEC summit in Vietnam by National Security Adviser Thaung Tun, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin and Burma’s ambassador to Vietnam.

From Da Nang, Suu Kyi will travel to the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, the Philippines, on Saturday, where Union ministers Thura Aung Ko and Kyaw Win will join her for those meetings of the Southeast Asian grouping, according to Burmese state media.