BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday he hoped moves by the United States to re-engage with Myanmar were not aimed at Beijing, underscoring China’s concerns about influence in its strategically located neighbor and close economic partner.
Chinese state-run media and academics have expressed concern Washington’s renewed interest in slowly democratizing Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, could be part of U.S. designs to dilute China’s influence there and encircle China with pro-U.S. states.
With sanctions long blocking Western investments, China has emerged as Myanmar’s biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs.
“We certainly have an interest in what is happening in Myanmar as it might affect peace and tranquility in our own border area,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told a news briefing.
“As to why the United States chose not to engage Myanmar in the past few decades, but now chooses to, it is up to the United States to explain,” he said.
“China has never seen its friendly and cooperative relationship with Myanmar, or any other country, as excluding the interests of the United States, and we hope the United States also approaches this matter in the same spirit.”
Derek Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy for Myanmar, said in December during a trip to Beijing the United States was not looking to undermine China’s stake in Myanmar.
The United States, along with the European Union, Japan and other Western countries, have moved to ease sanctions on Myanmar following the new army-backed civilian government’s efforts at pushing ahead with democratic reforms.
China has long worried about its ties with Myanmar, with a history of resentment of China among the Burmese population and fierce public opposition to a Chinese-built dam at Myitsone that prompted President Thein Sein to shelve the project in September, a move that stunned Beijing.
Fears about China’s influence in Myanmar have been bolstered not only by Washington’s engagement with the country but also the U.S. military’s strategic “pivot” back to Asia.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait