China calls for all Myanmar sanctions to go after poll

BEIJING, April 5 Thu Apr 5, 2012 4:52am EDT

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BEIJING, April 5 (Reuters) - China called on Thursday for all sanctions on Myanmar to be lifted following Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's by-election victory at the weekend, a poll result it said it hoped would be good for the country's stability.

"The result was broadly affirmed domestically and by the international community," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in China's first official comment on Sunday's elections, which yielded a landslide victory for Suu Kyi's party.

"China hopes that this by-election will be conducive to pushing Myanmar's political reconciliation process and Myanmar's stability and development," Hong told a regular news briefing.

While sanctions have blocked Western investments, China has become Myanmar's biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China's growing energy needs.

"China has noted that some Western countries have said they will lift sanctions on Myanmar. China has had a consistent stance on this issue. We welcome moves by these countries to lift sanctions on Myanmar and call on all parties to fully lift sanctions on Myanmar as soon as possible."

The United States said on Wednesday it was ready to relax some sanctions on Myanmar to recognise its fledgling democratic transition, including a ban on U.S. companies investing in or offering financial services to the country.

The European Union may also lift some sanctions, but will maintain pressure for the release of remaining political prisoners, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Beijing has long been Myanmar's closest partner, but relations have been strained since the former Burma suspended building a Chinese-funded dam in September. Washington's moves to re-engage with the once-isolated country are likely to complicate ties further.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Suu Kyi in December as Myanmar's new civilian government pledged to forge ahead with political reforms and re-engage with the world community.

Clinton's trip followed a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to open the door to stronger links, saying he saw the potential for progress in a country until recently seen as a reclusive military dictatorship firmly aligned with China.

China has counted on Myanmar as a bulwark against what Beijing sees as U.S. attempts to surround China. That reliance could be threatened now Washington has begun contacts with a Myanmar which is embarking on tentative political liberalisation.

Suu Kyi has tried to reassure China - a strong backer of the military regime which locked her up - that she does not consider Beijing an enemy, making remarks to that effect almost immediately upon being released from house arrest in 2010. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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