China pushes Myanmar military ties ahead of Clinton visit

BEIJING Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:48am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping offered to boost military ties with Myanmar on Monday, days ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic visit to China's isolated southern neighbor that has begun showing signs of political reform.

The calls by Xi, heir apparent to the Chinese leadership, to deepen military cooperation with Myanmar come after U.S. efforts to ramp up military engagement in Asia made Beijing jittery.

He told the visiting commander of Myanmar's armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, that the two countries' friendship had "endured the test of time through sudden international changes."

"I hope the militaries of the two countries, hereon, can continue to strengthen exchanges, deepen cooperation and play an active role in pushing forward the development of comprehensive relations," Xi said, according to a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website(www.fmprc.gov.cn).

Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama told Asia-Pacific leaders that the United States was "here to stay." He also announced plans to set up a de facto military base in northern Australia and chided China for refusing to discuss its South China Sea disputes at regional forums.

Chinese military commentators have suggested Washington's recent diplomatic push into the Asia-Pacific region is an obvious ploy to encircle China.

Clinton's three-day Myanmar visit from Wednesday is the first such trip by a U.S. secretary of state since a 1962 military coup ushered in 50 years of unbroken military rule.

That rule ended in March when a nominally civilian parliament was established.

Many of Myanmar's top leaders are former generals but they have adopted breathtakingly fast reforms by Myanmar's standards, reaching out to armed ethnic groups to end decades of violence,

releasing political prisoners, and initiating talks with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Obama dubbed those moves "flickers of progress," opening the door for Clinton's visit to the secretive state, which is under wide-reaching sanctions by Western countries for human rights issues.

China's ties with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, were jolted in September when the new civilian government suspended plans for a controversial, Chinese-backed dam.

For Myanmar, China is its most important diplomatic and economic ally, and both governments voiced a desire to find an "appropriate solution" to the dam issue.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait)

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