Sieren′s China: The big look forward | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 16.06.2015
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Sieren's China: The big look forward

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was given a grand reception in China. Her country is of such stragegic importance to China that ideological differences take a back seat, observes DW-columnist Frank Sieren.

The pictures of Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi touring China speak for themselves. She was received with full honors in Beijing - despite the fact that the central leadership there would normally do everything to avoid the mention of "opposition," or "Nobel Peace Prize," and "democracy" in the Chinese media.

So why did they launch this charm offensive? Beijing went for a show of pragmatism because Myanmar is a small but strategically important neighbor. And President Xi Jinping considered it wise to establish amicable relations with Suu Kyi ahead of elections in November, from which she may well emerge as an even more important political player.

China is the biggest investor in Myanmar. It has built roads, bridges and oil pipelines - and has equipped Myanmar's army.

Beijing is keen to secure quick access to the Indian Ocean as an alternative route to that through the Malacca Straits. The maritime routes through the Pacific are not just longer by a third than the one through the Indian Ocean, they also force Chinese vessels through an area that is in the geopolitical spotlight.

It would be possible for the US navy to quickly block access to the Malacca Straits and as long as China is involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it is keen to have an alternative maritime option.

Rebel groups destabilizing northern Myanmar

Beijing has already developed plans for a $20 billion railway line from China across Myanmar to the Indian Ocean, but it needs to secure safe passage through the country's restive Northern provinces. The rebel group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, MNDAA, has been operating there for several months now. It is fighting for more autonomy for the Chinese minority in the border region.

Frank Sieren Kolumnist Handelsblatt Bestseller Autor China

Strategic decisions trumped ideals on both sides during Suu Kyi's visit, says DW's China columnist Frank Sieren

Following an incident in March when five Chinese citizens were killed by a rocket that was fired across the border, China has had fighter jets patrol the border region and has held a military maneuver with live ammunition there to deter the rebel groups from further action.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been attempting to mediate: Following her stopovers in Beijing and Shanghai she travelled to southwestern Yunnan province; 30,000 people have fled there as a result of the fighting in Myanmar.

Her five-day visit to China has helped to improve cross-border relations. The rebels will have received the message that she is well connected in China and may be useful for them in the future should she come to power in Rangoon. China, on the other hand, saw the trip as an investment into securing a more stable Myanmar in the future with Suu Kyi as its leader.

Suu Kyi - a reliable partner for Beijing

So Xi Jinping has put the ball in Suu Kyi's court. He invited her first and foremost because he sees her as pragmatic and able to make strategic decisions that will benefit her country in the long run. China believes that she would be a more reliable partner than the current president, Thein Sein. Aung San Suu Kyi bears no grudges and is unlikely to hold it against the Chinese leadership that for decades they supported the very same military leaders who placed her under house arrest for 15 years.

So you could also say that Suu Kyi was acting at least as strategically as her hosts in accepting the invitation to China.

DW's columnist Frank Sieren has been living in Beijing for 20 years.

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