BEIJING (Reuters) - Myanmar’s reclusive leader on Thursday reassured Beijing that China is a vital ally and said an upcoming election and planned power transfer to a civilian government would not affect relations.
General Than Shwe dubbed China its most “important neighbor,” according to reports on Chinese state media, a designation likely to annoy Thailand and India which are vying for energy resources and other deals in the isolated nation.
“Myanmar regards China as its most important friendly neighbor, and will stick to its friendly policy toward China and its one-China stance,” the report quoted him as telling the head of China’s Communist Party-run parliament, Wu Bangguo.
“Myanmar will continue to develop its strategic relations with China after the election, and the handover from the military,” he added, according to a report on state television.
The ruling junta’s civilian proxies are expected to score a resounding victory in the November 7 elections. The U.S. and European governments have condemned the poll as a sham.
China has close ties with Myanmar and has poured billions into the country through investments in oil, gas and other industries, and is likely keen for guarantees that this spending will be respected by the new leadership.
Oil and gas pipelines are set to bring energy to China’s poor, landlocked southwest and Myanmar also offers potentially lucrative access to the Indian Ocean.
However Beijing also frets about drug lords and rebel armies operating along the border — and Than Shwe told President Wen Jiabao that Myanmar would work with its neighbor to jointly maintain peace and stability of the border regions.
The former Burma is subject to wide-ranging economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States stemming from its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1988 and continued detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
These make China’s support all the more vital.
Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison