Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to make first China trip

YANGOON, Myanmar – Myanmar's opposition leader and democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi will visit China for the first time next week, Beijing and her party said Friday, June 5, at a time of cooling relations between the once closely-bonded nations.

Beijing was a key backer of Myanmar's military junta while it was under Western sanctions, but conflict in a border area as well as fears over resource-grabbing by China have chilled ties.

Since launching reforms in 2011, Myanmar President Thein Sein has also reached out to the United States, which is hankering after friends in Southeast Asia.

Suu Kyi's opposition party is set to contest elections in November, which the US has backed as a key stepping stone towards democracy in a nation cloistered from the world for decades by the former junta.

"At the invitation of the Communist Party of China, a delegation of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar led by Chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi will pay a visit to China from June 10th to 14th," China's ruling Communist Party said on an official website.

Suu Kyi has been feted by world leaders on her regular travels abroad in recent years but it was not clear from the statement which Chinese officials she would meet.

But confirming the visit Nyan Win, spokesman from her National League for Democracy Party, said he understood that "she will meet with the President (Xi Jinping) and Chinese premier Li Keqiang".

Cooling ties

Suu Kyi became one of the world's most famous political prisoners during her house arrest for much of the 1990s and 2000s because of her outspoken opposition to military rule.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Although her star power is expected to steer her party to an election victory this November, Suu Kyi is barred by a junta-scripted clause in the constitution from the presidency – a clause she is battling to change.

Her global image as an upholder of human rights has also lost some of its lustre and she has been criticised by rights groups for a slow and measured response to the plight of Myanmar's unwanted Rohingya Muslims who are at the centre of a migrant crisis engulfing the region. –