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Envoy for Asia to prioritize Myanmar 'for now'

(China Daily)

09:46, March 12, 2013

China has appointed its first special envoy for Asian affairs, and his top priority will be Myanmar, the Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.

The announcement came as Myanmar's government met Kachin rebels on the Chinese side of the border for renewed peace talks on the same day.

The negotiations, attended by Chinese officials, were held to resolve a festering ethnic conflict that has undermined local reforms, according to media reports.

Chinese experts said the government established Myanmar as the envoy's priority because "there have been too many issues recently", including the conflict and commercial problems. The envoy will deal with other Asian affairs, they said.

China has nominated former vice-minister of foreign affairs Wang Yingfan as the first special envoy for Asian affairs, and he will be mainly engaged in China-Myanmar affairs, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday at a daily news briefing.

Beijing has established three similar positions before - special envoys for Africa, the Middle East and Korean Peninsula affairs.

Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "China should have appointed a special envoy for Asian affairs long before."

"There are many issues in the region that affect China's national interests. I'm sure the special envoy will go beyond issues concerning Myanmar," Xu said.

Wang was born in 1942 and spent many years in the ministry's department of Asian affairs.

He was Chinese ambassador to the Philippines in the late 1980s and is a former director of the department of Asian affairs.

"He has rich experience in Asian affairs and has his own way of handling the issues," Xu said.

On Monday, representatives of Myanmar's Kachin Independence Organization met with Myanmar government officials in the Chinese border town of Ruili, AFP quoted an analyst as saying.

"I think this meeting may be a little more productive than the previous one (in February) although we cannot expect too much," said Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst with close ties to the KIO who was monitoring the talks in Ruili.

"Myanmar troops are not retreating from Kachin state yet," he said, adding that Chinese officials and members of some of Myanmar's other ethnic groups were also present for the talks.

A dozen rounds of talks since 2011 have faltered with fighting continuing to claim lives.

But analysts said a new round in February, followed up by Monday's discussions, were a positive development after the latest upsurge in fighting.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin broke down.

Beijing has urged an end to the fight.

Song Qingrun, a Myanmar studies researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said China-Myanmar relations have faced a number of challenges. The countries share a 2,200 km border.

"The Kachin conflict endangers security along the border. And since 2011, several large-scale Chinese projects in Myanmar have been suspended, bringing huge losses to Chinese firms," Song said.

He was referring to incidents such as Myanmar in 2011 suspending work on a $3.6 billion Chinese-led dam in Myitsone, Myanmar's largest hydropower project, citing complaints from residents and opposition parties.

"The projects have been discredited by some anti-China groups, while media reports have ignored the huge contribution they were to bring to the local economy and community. Now Chinese companies are extremely cautious in investing in Myanmar," Song said.

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