China’s Vice President and the head of Myanmar's armed forces have vowed to boost bilateral ties between the two countries, just ahead of a breakthrough visit to Myanmar by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Top China and Myanmar Officials Meet
Vice President Xi Jinping met with Myanmar's Commander of the Armed Forces General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday morning, in Beijing.
"The friendship, forged by leaders of the older generations, has endured changes in the international arena," Xi said, in a statement quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency.
He said China will support Myanmar's efforts in preserving national unity, promoting economic development and improving the people's livelihood.
Mr. Xi and General Min Aung Hlaing also pledged to strengthen military exchanges between the two countries.
Mr. Xi is widely seen as China's leader-in-waiting. He is expected to take over from President Hu Jintao in 2012. As the chief of Myanmar's military, General Min Aung Hlaing is also seen as an influential figure in Myanmar despite the transition to a civilian government.
Secretary Clinton Visits Myanmar
According to Voice of America, the US government's official external media agency, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to comment on whether the meeting between the two officials was related to Secretary Clinton's historic trip to Myanmar this week.
Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama told Asia-Pacific leaders that the United States was "here to stay" in the region. He also announced plans to station 2,500 more troops in Australia, and pressed China to resolve the South China Sea disputes with Asian neighbours.
But Chinese commentators fear that the recent American diplomatic push into Asia is a ploy to encircle and contain China.
Secretary Clinton is currently in South Korea, and will arrive in Myanmar on Wednesday. Her three-day trip will be the first such visit by a US Secretary of State since Myanmar's military coup in 1962. Military rule in Myanmar only officially ended in March, when a nominally civilian parliament was installed.
Many of Myanmar's current civilian leaders are former military officers, but they have adopted a rapid series of reforms, including making peace with armed ethnic groups, releasing political prisoners, and holding talks with pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Obama has dubbed these moves "flickers of progress", opening the door for Mrs. Clinton's visit. Mrs. Clinton said the US is not ending sanctions against Myanmar yet, but "we think there's an opportunity and we want to test it".
China's ties with Myanmar were jolted in September when the new civilian government suspended plans for a US$3.6 billion Chinese-backed dam project in response to local opposition.
Analysts say Myanmar is trying to open some political space from China and assert its independence. Courting the United States and getting sanctions lifted would be a large step.
But Myanmar also cannot afford to alienate China, as economic links between the two countries remain critical to Myanmar's immediate future.
Report: Chinese Vice President vows to further ties with Myanmar [Xinhua, 28 Nov 2011]
Report: China pushes Myanmar military ties ahead of Clinton visit [Reuters, 28 Nov 2011]
Report: China, Burma To Strengthen Military Cooperation [Voice of America, 28 Nov 2011]
Report: Clinton to weigh reforms in historic Myanmar visit [Reuters, 28 Nov 2011]