Lam flies to turmoil-hit Burma

Top News | Phoenix Un and agencies 14 Sep 2017

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor leaves today for Burma, the third member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations she is visiting since taking office.

Burma is under severe international criticism for its military-led violence against Rohingya Muslims, pushing some 400,000 of them to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, and forcing State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to skip next week's United Nations General Assembly session.

Lam will be in Burma mainly for the 14th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention, to be held in Rangoon on Saturday. Held in various cities once every two years since 1991, the convention aims to give Chinese entrepreneurs and the international business-industrial sector a platform to enhance economic cooperation and understanding.

Lam will also meet senior Burmese officials in the capital Naypyidaw before returning to Hong Kong on Sunday.

She said the prolonged discussions for a free-trade agreement with ASEAN over three years have finally been concluded and will be officially signed in November.

ASEAN is an important component of the mainland's Belt and Road initiative, and Lam has been enthusiastic in connecting with these countries.

Other than Beijing and Tianjin, she has visited Singapore and Thailand since taking office on July 1.

Political commentator James Sung Lap-kung said the fact Lam is visiting Burma at a time when that country is facing global criticism shows China's support for Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

"By visiting [Burma] now, Lam is conveying a message to [Burma] on behalf of Beijing that China values Sino- [Burmese] relationship, and it's timely help for Aung San Suu Kyi," Sung said.

Earlier, China expressed backing for Burma's efforts to "safeguard stability."

Burma has a pivotal role in the Belt and Road initiative because it's sandwiched between China and India, and Beijing relies greatly on the Hong Kong government and businessmen to connect with the ASEAN countries.

"It's better for the SAR government and businessmen rather than Beijing to provide the linkage," Sung said.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi's office said she will not attend the upcoming UN General Assembly because of the Rohingya crisis.

"She is trying to control the security situation, to have internal peace and stability, and to prevent the spread of communal conflict," said Zaw Htay, spokesman for Suu Kyi's office.

The exodus of refugees - sparked by the security forces' fierce response to a series of Rohingya militant attacks - is the most pressing problem Suu Kyi has faced since becoming leader last year.

Outside of her country Suu Kyi's reputation as a defender of the oppressed is in ruins over the crisis. Rights groups have pilloried the former democracy activist for failing to speak out against the army campaign, which has left hundreds dead.

The UN Security Council was due to meet behind closed doors for the second time since the crisis erupted.

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