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Chinese regard Suu Kyi as a pragmatic politician rather than democracy icon

By Chen Heying (Global Times)    08:21, August 17, 2016

Suu Kyi no longer a touchy subject in China

Unlike Western media's narrative of Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar's democracy icon, Chinese people and observers are inclined to regard her as a pragmatic politician seeking cooperation with China for her people's good.

Suu Kyi will visit China from August 17-21 following her election as Myanmar government state counselor in April, at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang announced Monday.

China is the first country to be visited by Suu Kyi outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It demonstrates her emphasizing of China, which is Myanmar's largest foreign direct investor and trading partner, said Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

China, in return, is expected to show Suu Kyi, considered Myanmar's second-highest official after the president and the country's de facto premier, respect, Zhuang Guotu, head of the Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times.

Chinese leaders will meet her and exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest, Lu said, without elaboration.

It is not Suu Kyi's first visit to China. Before her party, the National League for Democracy, won Myanmar's general election in late 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Suu Kyi in June in Beijing based on party-to-party exchanges.

Limited exposure

Chinese media had been careful in reporting on Suu Kyi before she took office, experts said.

An online search on Chinese websites shows that most of her coverage revolves around Myanmar's 2015 and 2016 elections and projections of her future diplomatic strategy toward China. This was in stark contrast to fragmented coverage of her release after six years under house arrest.

The Lady, a biographical film about Suu Kyi directed by Luc Besson in 2011, was not officially available in China.

Many people in China have little knowledge on who Suu Kyi is or what she stands for.

"Her political experience in Myanmar can hardly be used as a reference in a socialist country since China is a State power of the people's democratic dictatorship according to the Constitution, instead of military rule," a graduate student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University surnamed Li told the Global Times on Tuesday.

A Chongqing police officer who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday that he is far more familiar with US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. This partly reflects a running online Global Times poll on Sina Weibo.

The survey on "the most charismatic female leader" shows that 21.8 percent of more than 7,000 respondents chose Merkel and another 21 percent selected Queen Elizabeth II as of press time. Only 7.6 percent favored Suu Kyi.

"No longer an opposition party leader and persecuted politician, Suu Kyi will refrain from displaying her pro-West stand as she seeks economic cooperation with the neighboring country," Zhao said.

"She has never uttered remarks to the detriment of China-Myanmar ties," Cheng Ruisheng, the late Chinese ambassador to Myanmar between 1987 and 1991 who once visited Suu Kyi at home, previously told media.

Reluctant to draw China's ire, Myanmar's new government has showcased its sincerity to maintain sound relations with China, which would be conducive to Myanmar's social and economic development, said Zhuang, citing its soft stance on the South China Sea issue, which was reflected on several occasions, including the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in July.

A Myanmar government commission has begun reviewing several hydropower projects, including the China-backed $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam, and is due to issue a report by November 11, Reuters reported. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor: Yuan Can,Bianji)

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