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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Taiwan drops 'China-centric' curriculum after protests

Taipei (AFP)
June 1, 2016

Taiwan's new government has repealed controversial changes to the high school curriculum that led to widespread protests last year over what critics said was "China-centric" education.

The order to overturn the changes comes less than two weeks since the China-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party was sworn in, replacing the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) government.

Outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou oversaw an unprecedented rapprochement with Beijing -- while new president Tsai Ing-wen has said she will maintain the "status quo" with China.

Ties have rapidly cooled since she won the presidency in January vowing to restore Taiwanese pride.

Education ministry officials said the decision on the curriculum, made late Tuesday, had been taken in response to public sentiment.

Dozens of angry students broke in to the education ministry in central Taipei last July over amendments to the curriculum brought in by the KMT, which they said favored China's view of the island's history.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war and is self-ruling, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification -- by force if necessary.

Arrests of the protesting students sparked demonstrations across the island, stoked by the suicide of one young activist.

At least 100 protesters were camped out at the ministry for six days.

Deputy education minister Lin Teng-chiao told AFP Wednesday the panel that had made the original changes was "not representative" of the island and the procedure was "not proper".

The protests over the curriculum came as concerns grew, especially among the young, over increased Chinese influence.

Curriculum changes disputed by protesters included a reference to Taiwan being "recovered by China" instead of "given to China" after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.

The 50-year period of Japanese rule is also referred to as an era when "Japan occupied" the island, replacing the previous phrase "Japan governed".

"We're glad to see the outcome, which could not have been possible without the efforts of many people," leading activist Lin Fei-fan said.

"One person even died for this cause," he said.

Source: Sino Daily.
Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_drops_China-centric_curriculum_after_protests_999.html.

Turkey in Africa 'for a win-win relationship'

17 August 2016 Wednesday

Turkey’s ties to Africa are centuries-old and based on a “win-win relationship”, Esra Demir, Turkish ambassador to the Ivory Coast has told Anadolu Agency.

"Since 2002, the number of our embassies in Africa has risen from 17 to 39. It is therefore obvious that we show great interest in our African friends. But it is not only economically – we are in a win-win relationship which will continue and intensify," she said.

Talking about economic cooperation, the ambassador said:

"The Turkish and Ivorian presidents had set a goal – a trade volume of one billion dollars by 2020. We have noticed that we are moving towards this direction. During the first half of 2016, the trade volume increased from $183 to $219 million, an increase of 20 percent compared to last year."

Demir also welcomed the solidarity of shown by several African leaders to Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.

She sincerely thanked the Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara and Foreign Minister Albert Toikeusse Mabri for their messages of support.

On another level, the Turkish diplomat denounced the reservations of some Western countries on measures taken by the state against those accused of involvement in the attempted coup, stressing that the Turkish people expected a different reaction from those who say they “are apostles of democracy”.

“The Turkish people showed maturity and courage by taking to the streets. There were 240 people who died in the shootings but the citizens did not give up and they were successful… It was later expected that countries should show solidarity.

“But this was not the case. Instead of support; the heroic struggle of the Turkish people has seen a lot of criticisms. That is not easy to digest,” Demir said.

She added that "none of these countries who present themselves as apostles of democracy came to visit the half-destroyed parliament or the people who had gathered spontaneously under bombardment the night of the coup attempt".


Regarding the fight against terrorism, Demir said that Turkey and several African countries, including the Ivory Coast, have to cooperate in the exchange of information in order to maintain stability and security.

In this regard, she said she had informed the Ivorian authorities of the presence in the country of “dangerous nuclei,” namely the Fetullah Terrorist Organization or FETO, accused of being the instigator of the Turkish coup attempt. She added it is the Ivorian decision makers who will settle on what measures are to be taken.

"Children who come out from the institutions of this conspirator [a reference to Fetullah Gulen] become his unconditional followers… We must therefore be vigilant," warned Demir.

Asked whether Turkey would be able to overcome difficulties in securing the closure of Gulen-linked institutions in the Ivory Coast, the ambassador said that her country was always ready to support friendly states.

Focusing instead on obstacles related to Gulen’s extradition by the United States, Demir said that procedure is still ongoing.

"We have prepared the file, there are a lot of confessions and many testimonies are in it. We have not yet received a negative response but it will continue. We expect his extradition as soon as possible," she said.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/176264/turkey-in-africa-for-a-win-win-relationship.

Turkey to release 38,000 from jail; frees space for plotters

August 17, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey issued a decree Wednesday paving the way for the conditional release of 38,000 prisoners, the justice minister said — an apparent move to reduce its prison population to make space for thousands of people who have been arrested as part of an investigation into last month's failed coup.

The decree allows the release of inmates who have two years or less to serve of their prison terms and makes convicts who have served half of their prison term eligible for parole. Some prisoners are excluded from the measures: people convicted of murder, domestic violence, sexual abuse or terrorism and other crimes against the state.

The measures would not apply for crimes committed after July 1, excluding any people later convicted of coup involvement. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on his Twitter account the measure would lead to the release of some 38,000 people. He insisted it was not a pardon or an amnesty but a conditional release of prisoners.

The government says the July 15 coup, which led to at least 270 deaths, was carried out by followers of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who have infiltrated the military and other state institutions. Gulen has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup but Turkey is demanding that the United States extradite him.

The Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on Gulen's supporters in the aftermath of the coup. Some 35,000 people have been detained for questioning and more than 17,000 of them have been formally arrested to face trial, including soldiers, police, judges and journalists.

Tens of thousands more people with suspected links to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government. The government crackdown has raised concerns among European nations and human rights organizations, who have urged the Turkish government to show restraint.

Turkish police raid 44 companies in probe into failed coup

August 16, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's state-run news agency says police have launched simultaneous raids on 44 companies suspected of providing financial support to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen's movement.

Turkey accuses Gulen of being behind the July 15 failed coup, a claim Gulen denies. The Anadolu Agency says Tuesday's raids in Istanbul's Umraniye and Uskudar districts came after authorities issued warrants to detain 120 company executives as part of the investigation into the coup attempt. The agency did not identify the companies searched.

The government has launched a massive crackdown on suspected supporters of Gulen's movement. More than 35,000 people have been detained for questioning while tens of thousands of others have been dismissed from government jobs, including in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government.

Poland plans prison terms for using term 'Polish death camp'

August 16, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government approved a new bill on Tuesday that foresees prison terms of up to three years for anyone who uses phrases like "Polish death camps" to refer to Auschwitz and other camps that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II.

The bill aims to deal with a problem the Polish government has faced for years: foreign media outlets — and even U.S. President Barack Obama — referring to the Nazi camps as "Polish." The Justice Ministry said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo approved the legislation during a weekly session on Tuesday. It is expected to pass easily in the parliament, where the nationalistic right-wing ruling Law and Justice party enjoys a majority.

Poles fear that as the war grows more distant younger generations across the world will incorrectly assume that Poles had a role in running Auschwitz, Treblinka and other German death camps, a bitter association for a nation that was occupied and subjected to brutality that left some 5.5 million Polish citizens dead during the war, about 3 million Jews and 2.5 million non-Jews.

"It wasn't our mothers, nor our fathers, who are responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust, which were committed by German and Nazi criminals on occupied Polish territory," Zbignew Ziobro, the justice minister, said Tuesday. "Our responsibility is to defend the truth and dignity of the Polish state and the Polish nation, as well as our fathers, our mothers and our grandparents."

Many Poles support such legislation and feel that it differs little from laws that some countries, including Poland and Germany, have that make Holocaust denial a crime. However, critics note that the government will ultimately be powerless to punish people outside of Poland, those most likely to use such language. They fear its true intent is to repress historical inquiry within Poland into Polish behavior toward Jews. Though the Polish state never collaborated with the Nazis, there were some Poles who killed Jews or identified them to the Germans. That subject is anathema to the country's nationalistic leadership, which has an official "historical policy" of promoting knowledge of the heroic episodes in Poland's past.

There were also Poles who risked their lives to help Jews. The Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem has recognized more than 6,000 Poles as "Righteous Among the Nations" for rescuing Jews, more than from any other country.

The bill had been under discussion for many months and originally foresaw a prison term of up to five years. The version approved Tuesday is milder. The Justice Ministry says that prison terms of up to three years would be reserved for those who intentionally slander Poland's good name by using terms like "Polish death camps" or "Polish concentration camps." Those who use such language unintentionally would face lesser punishments, including fines.

PA: Czech schools to stop defining Jerusalem as capital of Israel

August 17, 2016

The Czech Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports notified the Palestinian Authority embassy in Prague of their decision to stop using educational textbooks that refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a statement released by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

Palestinian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Khalid Al-Atrash confirmed that the textbook used since 2011 would not be used in schools anymore unless the publishers correct the statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

The decision was made after the Palestinian embassy contacted Czech ministers and requested that they amend the textbooks.

According to international frameworks for a two-state solution, East Jerusalem is internationally recognized as the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160817-pa-czech-schools-to-stop-defining-jerusalem-as-capital-of-israel/.

Renowned chef feeds Rio's homeless with excess Olympic food

August 16, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Twelve hours ago, Fagner Dos Santos ate his last meal: two hardened bread buns and coffee. For much of the past decade, the 33-year-old has been battling drug addiction while living on the streets of Rio. When he eats at all, it's usually at a grungy soup kitchen or after picking through the trash.

Now he and some 70 other homeless men are feasting on a three-course meal courtesy of one of the world's top chefs. On the menu: Ossobuco with buttery baroa potatoes topped off with a gelato dessert. "Who would've thought food made for the cream of society would be served to a group of homeless men?" dos Santos said, gazing at the open, art-filled dining room and waiters in prim orange aprons that for a short while transported him away from his tough life.

The gastronomic destination is the brainchild of Italian master chef Massimo Bottura. Using leftover ingredients from Olympic caterers and other local partners, Bottura created a gourmet soup kitchen, RefettoRio Gastromotiva , that for a week now has been serving up meals to Rio's homeless population. The name is a play on the Latin word reficere, meaning "to restore," and a nod to the communal dining rooms known as refectories that are a mainstay of monasteries.

With questions swirling over the $12 billion price tag of South America's first Olympics, Bottura wanted to make a statement about the games' sustainability by taking on one symbol of Olympic waste: the more than 230 tons of food supplied daily to prepare 60,000 meals for athletes, coach and staff.

"This is a cultural project, not a charity," said Bottura, who runs the Michelin three-star Osteria Francescana in Modena. "We want to rebuild the dignity of the people." Bottura said he was inspired by Pope Francis' advocacy for the poor and modeled his project on a similar one he organized last year in an abandoned theater during the Milan world's fair. His aim is to educate people about food waste in order to help feed the 800 million in the world who are hungry.

It's a message that resonates in Rio. Over the past year, as Brazil plunged into its deepest recession in decades, the city's homeless population has struggled. In June, facing a financial calamity, Rio's state government had to close or cutback service at 16 meal centers. The splurge on the Olympics has only heightened a sense of abandonment among the homeless, with many reporting being repeatedly removed by police from the city's recently cleaned-up Lapa district, where Bottura's restaurant is located.

In contrast to the government-run centers, where meals are served on prison-like food trays with throw-away cups, the Refettorio is an epicurean's delight, complete with designer wood tables, oversized photos of the staff by French artist JR and a long mural of the Last Supper dripping in chocolate by Vik Muniz, one of Brazil's top-selling artists.

At night the space, built of corrugated plastic on a run-down lot donated by the city, looks like a lit-up box. For the Olympics launch, Bottura assembled a tour de force of local and international celebrity chefs. Once the games are over, the project will morph into a lunchtime restaurant, proceeds of which will fund evening meals for the homeless.

Beneficiaries are selected by groups like one that runs a shelter for transvestites who work as prostitutes on Lapa's libertine streets. Working the kitchen are graduates of local partner Gastromotiva, a nonprofit cooking school that has turned hundreds of Brazilians from the country's neglected favelas into cooks.

For many of the diners at RefettoRio, the food is unlike anything they've tasted before. But it's the royal treatment they relish most. "Just sitting here, treated with respect on an equal footing, makes me think I have a chance," said Valdimir Faria, an educated man who found himself alone on Rio's streets, in a downward alcoholic spiral, after his marriage and life in a city hours away fell apart.

As dinner service got underway Sunday, a disheveled man identifying himself only as Nilson removed a few radish slices from his eggplant panzanella salad and deposited them in a plastic bucket holding a squeegee kit.

"I thought it was paper," he laughed, while trading a boisterous "grazie, grazie" with Bottura. Sunday's meal was prepared by chef Rafael Costa e Silva, who normally dishes up fixed-price meals for $150 a head at his swank Lasai bistro in Rio. While he makes a living catering to the rich, he said he'll never forget the experience of serving the poor.

As dinner wound down, Costa e Silva emerged from the kitchen to thank his guests. It was Father's Day in Brazil, and so for many of the men gathered who talked about life's wrong turns and their estrangement from family, emotions ran high.

"What you've enjoyed is a simple meal but one made with lots of love and care," Costa e Silva said before the dining hall broke into applause. He wiped a tear from his cheek and continued. "We wanted you to feel spoiled — for at least one night."

25 years on, Russians tell of how they defeated a coup

August 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The KGB major was on vacation in the Russian countryside in August 1991 when he woke up to a radio broadcast announcing a state of national emergency. The bulletin contained something else: a secret code phrase for intelligence officers, summoning them back to their posts immediately.

On Aug. 19, 1991, a group of eight senior hard-line Communist leaders, including the KGB chairman, had seized power from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, declaring that Gorbachev was unable to continue as head of the party due to illness.

In fact, Gorbachev was under arrest and the "Gang of Eight" intended to roll back his reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, which they believed had set the Soviet Union on a path of disaster.

For a few days, the fate of the superpower hung in the balance. When KGB Maj. Valery Shiryayev arrived in Moscow and got on the phone, his supervisor was anything but enthusiastic about the coup. "These are people who have no idea what they're doing," he declared to the major. "They're doomed, and the coup will be over in two days."

Shiryayev's boss turned out to be right. As the 25th anniversary of the August Coup draws near this Friday, The Associated Press has talked to participants and witnesses of those critical days when Muscovites turned out to defend the spirit of democracy that Gorbachev had unleashed, and many Soviet officers defied their orders and sided with the people, ensuring that that the plotters failed.

Nevertheless, the Aug. 19 failed coup was a turning point in modern Russian history. It set in motion the dissolution of the Soviet Union and provided a moment of glory for Boris Yeltsin, at the time the president of the Russian constituent republic within the USSR, who is remembered for climbing atop a tank to defy the coup. Overshadowing Gorbachev as the man of the moment, Yeltsin emerged the indisputable leader of a new Russia and eventually became its first democratically elected president.

Today's president, Vladimir Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin in 1999, owes his position to the failed coup, but he would come to mourn the Soviet empire's collapse that followed as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.

In the summer of 1991, Gorbachev was making a last-ditch effort to hold the Soviet Union together by approving a plan to recognize the sovereignty of Russia and the other 14 Soviet republics in exchange for preserving a central Soviet government.

With the treaty set to be signed on Aug. 20, the plotters decided to act. Led by KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, they put the vacationing Soviet president under house arrest in Crimea. As hundreds of armored vehicles began to roll toward Moscow on the plotters' orders, Yeltsin, his security chief Alexander Korzhakov and his closest advisers got into their cars and headed for the seat of his Russian government, a tall modern building known as the White House. On the way, they overtook one tank after another.

Korzhakov recalled how their mood changed when Yeltsin's staff saw crowds of supporters of the legitimate government around the White House: "At this point everyone began to feel calm and confident that the people, Muscovites, were on our side."

Among the protesters that day was an 18-year-old geology student, Leonid Ragozin, who ignored his parents' pleas not to go to the barricades. "When I got to the White House, I saw all those people, thousands and thousands of people who were standing in lines, making human shields," he said.

Ragozin said it was raining heavily, yet hundreds of people were walking around with tea kettles and pots of food to sustain the protesters. The coup leaders had ordered newspapers not to print and put a gag on television, meaning for Yeltsin it was nearly impossible to get his message of defiance out.

When Dmitry Sokolov, Yeltsin's personal photographer and employee of the state news agency TASS, took pictures of the tanks outside the White House the TASS photo desk told him: "Why do we need them? We have pictures of the State Emergency Committee."

It was Yeltsin who pushed him to find a foreign news organization that would get the pictures out, Sokolov recalled. Some of the protesters tried to talk to crews of the tanks that had rumbled to the White House. One of these conversations persuaded an officer and the crews of the six tanks under his command to switch sides.

Maj. Sergei Yevdokimov's battalion had been wakened at 6 a.m. and ordered to head to Moscow. Nobody knew what a tank battalion was supposed to be doing in the heart of the nation's capital and Yevdokimov suspected something was wrong.

"When we arrived at the White House and found out what was happening, I decided I would not do anything that could cause loss of life," he said. Later, Yeltsin's right-hand man, Alexander Rutskoi, asked him about the plotters, Yevdokimov said. "Do you realize they are criminals? Will you help us?" Rutskoi asked.

"I do. I will," Yevdokimov replied, despite the risk of prison. Across Moscow, KGB staff faced a similar dilemma. Shiryayev had reported to work, but since he was formally on vacation he did not have to go out and arrest pro-reform lawmakers as his colleagues had been ordered to do.

They did not do it, however. Instead, they invented ways to evade the orders, he recalled. "We soon found people who had a birthday on that day and just got drunk. This was a purely Russian solution," Shiryayev said. "How can they punish you for drinking on duty? They can reprimand you, they can fire you, lower your military rank, they could destroy your career — but this won't send you to prison."

Shiryayev said dozens of his colleagues got drunk, called in sick or spent hours outside the building smoking and drinking tea rather than participating in the coup. "Everyone realized this was a catastrophe. We were asked to obey absolutely unlawful orders that could have led to a civil war in Russia," he said.

Within two days, it was clear that headquarters employees were not obeying their boss, the KGB chairman Kryuchkov. Yeltsin received a phone call from the plotters, who said they were calling off the troops and sending for Gorbachev.

Shiryayev recalled seeing the stooped figure of Kryuchkov hurrying across the inner courtyard at KGB headquarters into his black limousine and driving away. Smokers in the courtyard shouted, "Scumbag, are you happy now?" and pelted him with cigarette butts.

Shiryayev resigned from the KGB in 1994 and is now deputy director at Novaya Gazeta, a rare independent Russian newspaper. Kryuchkov was arrested, along with six other coup plotters, but all were amnestied in 1994 and some later returned to government service. The eighth plotter committed suicide before he could be arrested.

By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved and a new Russia was born. Under Putin, the Russian political system has taken a clear turn back toward authoritarian rule. He also has tried to restore elements of the old empire, by recentralizing power, restoring control over the media, rebuilding the military and reclaiming a global role.

Those who remember the August 1991 crisis, however, say the totalitarian state of old is gone for good. "The current political regime is repressive, but freedom is not only about voting for political parties," said Ragozin, now a freelance journalist. "It's about being able to choose your lifestyle, about being able to travel, choose your profession. That was largely absent in the Soviet Union, which was a truly totalitarian state."

Anniversaries of the coup attempt over the years have become low-key occasions, in sharp contrast to the shows of might that Russia puts on for Victory Day, which celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. This year, however, the anniversary will be marked with a series of events in Moscow, including lectures, concerts and exhibitions.

Fate took a curious twist for some of those who helped defeat the coup. Yeltsin resigned suddenly on New Year's Eve of 1999, catastrophically unpopular by then. A bodyguard who stood next to him on the tank, Viktor Zolotov, was recently appointed chief of the National Guard, a powerful new security agency created by Putin for dispersing anti-government protests.

Yeltsin fired Korzhakov in 1996 during his re-election campaign. He later won election to Russia's parliament, but has since retired. Yevdokimov, the tank commander, received no hero's welcome when he returned to his home base outside Moscow and was soon sent to work in an enlistment office.

"There was talk around me, 'You violated your oath' and things like that. But I thought those who sided with the coup broke their oath," he said. "I stayed true to my oath. The president was illegally ousted."

Massive dam project at center of China-Myanmar talks

August 18, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — Efforts by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week to bolster ties with her country's dominant northern neighbor China may hinge on whether she can resolve the fate of a massive, Chinese-funded dam project blocked by overwhelming local opposition.

Suu Kyi was to be greeted with a formal welcome ceremony on Thursday as part of a visit ending Sunday that will include talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. It's her first trip to China since her party won a historic majority last year.

Now leading Myanmar with the title of state counselor, Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 15 years in house arrest under Myanmar's former military junta, which was supported for years by the authoritarian Communist Party-led government in Beijing. But analysts say Suu Kyi has shown pragmatism and a desire to re-order Myanmar's relationship with China, its top trading partner and a major investor, while also reaching out to the United States, Europe and Japan.

Key to both sides is the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project in northern Myanmar, funded by Chinese power interests but suspended in 2011 by Myanmar's former military-backed president, Thein Sein. A spokesman for Myanmar's foreign affairs department said China was expected to raise the dam dispute this week.

China sees the dam as an important part of a national strategy to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and meet its targets to cut pollution. It has pursued a charm offensive in Myanmar partly to push for construction to resume.

But opponents in Myanmar, also known as Burma, say the reservoir created by the Myitsone dam would create massive flooding on the Irrawaddy River, endangering ecologically sensitive areas and displacing thousands of people. They also question the previous arrangement of China taking 90 percent of the dam's power, while nearly 70 percent of Myanmar has no access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

The dam is one of several Chinese-backed projects stalled due to protests from Myanmar citizens newly emboldened to speak out following democratic reforms, part of a larger backlash against China's economic domination of its poor southern neighbor.

Suu Kyi's government recently announced a commission to review all hydroelectric projects along the Irrawaddy. Zhao Gancheng, director of the Asia-Pacific Center at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said that announcement might be a signal that a compromise was possible.

"To handle it well will help create a favorable condition for future trade and economic development between the two countries," Zhao said. "Otherwise, obstacles will emerge in attracting investment from China in the future and that is not what the new Burmese government and Aung San Suu Kyi want to see."

Aaron Connelly, a research fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, said Suu Kyi could offer an alternative plan that mollifies China and at least some of the opposition in Myanmar.

"That would be the question on the Myanmar side," Connelly said. "Is there something that can be offered that meets the expectations, but does not create a lake the size of Singapore on the Irrawaddy?"

Suu Kyi remains an icon to many of the people of Myanmar, and that may give her the standing to seek a deal that allows the dam to go forward under different circumstances, Connelly said. She is also likely to seek more cooperation from China as her government begins a peace conference at the end of August with ethnic minorities from the region where the dam is planned, and may tie the two issues together, Connelly said. China has been involved previously in negotiations between the government and Kachin rebels, who have fought for decades in regions near the Chinese border.

"She constantly surprises in what she's willing to do in terms of political agreements that she's willing to strike, and because she's such a singularly popular figure," he said. "She can potentially make a deal here that would be very unpopular and bounce back from that."

Beijing supports the peace process because "a politically stable and economically prosperous Myanmar is in China's best interests," China's official Xinhua News Agency said in an editorial Wednesday. "Given the fact that a strong China-Myanmar partnership is important for both sides, it is welcome that Suu Kyi, a key figure in the Myanmar government and the leader of the ruling party, plays a greater role in helping secure a healthy Myanmar-China relationship," Xinhua said.

China considers Myanmar strategically important as a gateway to the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, and wants to secure oil and gas pipelines running across the country to the Chinese border. Along with stalled projects, friction between the countries has erupted over fighting between Myanmar's military and ethnic minority rebels along the border that has killed Chinese farmers and sent a flow of refugees into China.

Associated Press writer Esther Htusan in Yangon, Myanmar, and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.