Who is Aung San Suu Kyi and why is she in China?

World Today

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi stands at the podium to deliver a speech in Yangon, Myanmar in Dec. 2013. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)

Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of Myanmar’s opposition party, is in Beijing to strengthen ties with Myanmar’s giant neighbor to the East. She met with China’s President, Xi Jinping, on Thursday and will stay through Sunday. Here’s why her visit is significant:

ho is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks in Yangon, Myanmar in Jan. 2015. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is a revered leader in Myanmar. Born and raised in what was then known as Burma, her father was independence leader Aung San who rallied his country to end British colonial rule. He also founded the Communist Party of Burma. His rivals gunned him down – along with seven other leaders – in 1947, the year Aung San negotiated Burma’s independence. Two months after his death, Burma gained independence from the United Kingdom.

Suu Kyi studied at Oxford University in the U.K. where she met and married Michael Aris and had two children. She returned to Myanmar in 1988 and joined the democracy uprising. When the military took over the country in a coup, Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and campaigned for office in the 1990 parliamentary elections. When her party won the majority, the government refused to hand over power and she was placed under house arrest. She was allowed to leave the country, but would never be allowed to return.

While under house arrest, she won the Nobel Price for Peace in 1991 and was unable to be with her husband when he died of cancer in 1999. She was released from detention on Nov. 13, 2010. In 2012, she won a seat in parliament for the NLD and left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years to visit Thailand in 2012. This is her first visit to China. Suu Kyi will turn 70 years old on June 19.

hy is Suu Kyi in China?

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Thursday, June 11, 2015. Suu Kyi met Xi during her visit to Beijing aimed at building ties with her country’s powerful neighbor. (Liu Weibing/Xinhua via AP)

Suu Kyi was invited to visit China by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The visit is aimed at promoting friendly relations and better understanding between the two countries. Since her release from house arrest, Suu Kyi has said that her country must maintain friendly relations with China, said Song Qingrun, an expert with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. Suu Kyi’s family has kept close ties with the country and she has repeatedly expressed her wish to visit, Song said. Suu Kyi’s father Aung San sought help from the CPC in 1940 to drive out the British. Suu Kyi’s mother also kept good relations with CPC leaders, including late premier Zhou Enlai, China Daily reported.

According to an editorial by Xinhua, since 2010, China-Myanmar relations have seen “some disturbances, with several key cooperation projects, including a water dam and a copper mine, being brought to a standstill.” The editorial also said: “China welcomes anyone with friendly intentions and it bears no grudge for past unpleasantness. It is hoped the upcoming visit by Suu Kyi will enhance mutual understanding and promote cooperation and friendly relations between China and Myanmar.”

In a show of how important the visit is, the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar saw her off at the airport, a rare arrangement for inter-party exchanges, China Daily reported. In Beijing, Suu Kyi first met Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, on Wednesday. On Thursday, she met with China’s President and Secretary General of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping, in Beijing.

Xi said he hoped Suu Kyi would better understand China and the CPC and boost cooperation between the two countries. Suu Kyi said her party valued the friendship between the two countries and said her party admired China’s remarkable developmental achievements under the leadership of the CPC, and hoped to further strengthen the two parties’ relationship through the visit.

Xi also said that China supported Myanmar’s efforts to safeguard sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity and he respects Myanmar’s choice for development path on its own, and backs the process of reconciliation in Myanmar. He also called on Suu Kyi and the NLD to continue to play a constructive role in guiding the Myanmar people regarding their view on China-Myanmar cooperation in an unbiased and rational way, and instill more positive energy into the bilateral ties.

hat will happen from this visit?

Aung San Suu Kyi, fourth from top left, is seated with other members of parliament during a parliament session in the country’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw, Myanmar in April 2015. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Developing inter-party and civilian exchanges with Myanmar can help ease the country’s anti-China sentiments due to lack of knowledge of China and distorted reports of some Western media, Song Qingrun, with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations told China Daily.

The Myanmar Times on Monday quoted political commentator U Yan Myo Thein as saying that there were “high hopes” for the trip, and talks would likely cover such sensitive and controversial projects as the Letpadaung copper mine and the Myitsone dam. The Chinese invested projects have been stalled in Myanmar, and the Myanmar reformist government has sought to reduce its heavy dependence on China, China Daily reported.

“I believe to some extent the visit would help resolve military tensions across the border,” Myo Thein added.

Fighting between the Myanmar military and rebels has spilled over into China, resulting in deaths and injuries of Chinese citizens, China Daily also reported. Suu Kyi will be able to take “objective and reliable information” back to Myanmar’s people about China’s intentions in their country, Qu Jianwen, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at China’s Yunnan University, told the Associated Press.

The Xinhua editorial also concluded with the following sentiment: “There is also a reminder: China has no intention to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs, but is determined to protect its citizens from being caught in a war launched from the other side of the border. Myanmar has to honor its commitment to safeguarding security and stability on the China-Myanmar border and do the utmost to avoid incidents such as stray bombs on Chinese soil.”

hy should you care?

Aung San Suu Kyi, walks upon her arrival at Yangon International Airport to depart for China, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Building better ties with China will also benefit both economies. In 2013, China was Myanmar’s top trading partner (pdf) in imports and the second biggest partner in exports. China will most likely remain the country’s largest investor, said Omar Hamid, London-based head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS, an independent economic consultant in an interview with the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Suu Kyi will seek to position herself as a leader who can draw support from both the West and China, Hamid said to the AP.

The meeting also gives China a high-profile example of how it’s building new relationships. The Xinhua editorial reads: “As is known to many, the CPC communicates not only with foreign political parties that adopt the same ideology, but also those with a different political vision. The invitation extended to Suu Kyi is a proof that the CPC stands ready to engage with any political parties as long as they are willing to promote the sound development of relations with China.”

Story includes information from CCTV News, China Daily, Xinhua, the Myanmar Times, the New York Times, and the Associated Press.