China's ambassador to Myanmar held a rare meeting with Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week, her aide said on Thursday, in the highest level contact in two decades between Beijing and Myanmar's opposition.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the two met, adding that China's top diplomat, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, would travel to Myanmar for a summit next week of Mekong River countries. China’s ambassador Li Junhua's meeting with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi was in response to a request from her.
"Madame Aung San Suu Kyi has proposed a number of times her desire for contact with the Chinese side, and the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar's meeting was in answer to this," The Foreign Ministry spokesman said, but declined to say when or where the meeting took place.
The last time a senior Chinese official had visited Aung San Suu Kui was between 1978- 1997 where China's then-ambassador Cheng Ruisheng met Suu Kyi twice.
Background of China-Myanmar relations
China has long been Myanmar's closest partner. But relations have been strained after the former Burma suspended building a Chinese-funded dam in September, and have been further affected by Washington's tentative moves to re-engage with the once-isolated country.
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met Suu Kyi this month as Myanmar's new civilian government pledged to forge ahead with political reforms and re-engage with the world community.
Mrs Hillary Clinton's trip follows a decision by US President Barack Obama last month to open the door to expanded ties, saying he saw the potential for progress in a country until recently seen as a reclusive military dictatorship firmly aligned with China.
With sanctions 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.
China has also counted on Myanmar as a bulwark against what Beijing sees as US attempts to surround China. That could be threatened now Washington has begun contacts with a Myanmar which is embarking on tentative political liberalisation.
The meeting between Chinese diplomat and Aung San Suu Kyi assumes significance because it was rare since Beijing, which backed the military regime, has not known to have any contact with her in the past since 1991.
Analysts view the visit by China as a response to US’s increased engagement with Myanmar.
"Since the US visit, we ought to be stepping up our visits and contacts as well," said Lin Xixing, a Myanmar expert at Guangzhou's Jinan University.
"Myanmar needs China even more than it needs the United States if it hopes to resolve it problems with ethnic minorities fighting the government," he added, referring to the various groups whose fighting sometimes pushes refugees into China.
Analysts have observed that China was caught flat-footed by Myanmar's new openness to the West, which comes as the long-ostracized country seeks to reduce its reliance on Chinese military and economic support. Some say a strain with China helped spark Myanmar's recent shifts.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to reassure China repeatedly, who strongly backed 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 last year.
Report: Chinese Diplomat Meets With Myanmar Dissident [The Wall Street Journal, 16 Dec 2011]
Report: China's Ambassador to Burma Meets Aung San Suu Kyi [VOA, 15 Dec 2011]