Myanmar’s transition to democracy will not change the country’s traditional friendship with China, Burmese President Thein Sein was cited as telling Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), amid concerns in China its neighbor could become a US ally.
Chinese officials and media have expressed concern Washington’s renewed interest in slowly democratizing Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, could be part of US designs to dilute China’s influence there and encircle China with pro-US states.
Fears about China’s influence in Myanmar have been bolstered not only by Washington’s engagement with the country but also the US military’s strategic “pivot” back to Asia.
However, during a meeting on the sidelines of a trade fair in southern China, Thein Sein said Beijing should not worry.
“Myanmar is at present in a transitional phase, but Myanmar pays great attention to developing relations with China, and its policy of seeing China has a true friend has not changed,” China’s foreign ministry cited Thein Sein as telling Xi.
“China has for a long time provided a large amount of sincere support and help, and stood at Myanmar’s side at the most difficult of times. Myanmar’s people will never forget this,” Thein Sein added, in the statement released on Friday.
It is Thein Sein’s second trip to China since he took office in March last year. He goes to the US after completing this trip.
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.
The US, along with the EU, 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 US$3.6 billion Chinese-built dam at Myitsone that prompted Thein Sein to shelve the project last year, a move that stunned Beijing.
Xi did not directly address that issue, saying only that “both sides should work hard to guarantee the smooth progress of certain important cooperative projects.”