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Updated: September 8, 2010 23:37 IST

Myanmar seeks China's support in polls

Ananth Krishnan
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Myanmar's top leader Gen. Than Shwe is greeted by Myanmar officials upon arrival at the airport in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: AP.
Myanmar's top leader Gen. Than Shwe is greeted by Myanmar officials upon arrival at the airport in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: AP.

Myanmar's military leader General Than Shwe on Wednesday held talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, reportedly seeking Chinese support for coming elections.

In talks with Mr. Hu and officials of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the leader of Myanmar's military regime also called for expanding military cooperation, with the PLA Navy recently making its first port call in Yangon.

While both sides have not released specific information about the visit, its timing, coming three months ahead of the significant November 7 elections, suggested General Shwe would seek China's support for the elections, said analysts.

Ahead of Wednesday's talks, Mr. Hu said the visit took place “at a very special moment”, marking the sixtieth anniversary of diplomatic relations. “This shows that you pay a lot of attention to improving bilateral relations between China and Myanmar,” he told General Shwe. “I believe your visit will further promote bilateral relations and mutual cooperation between neighbours.”

General Shwe said “the main purpose” of his visit was “to further promote the already existing neighbourly friendship, mutual cooperation and trust between the two countries”.

Border stability

“As the election approaches and tensions remain high along the border, China has been taking a role in managing border stability,” Yun Sun, an expert on China's relationship with Myanmar at the International Crisis Group, told The Hindu.

In August 2009, Beijing was caught off-guard by the Myanmar military government's offensive in the Kokang region, which led to more than 30,000 refugees crossing into Yunnan. Since then, Ms. Sun said, Beijing has used “pressure and mediation” to bring the military regime and ethnic groups to the negotiating table.

General Shwe's visit takes place only three months after Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to Myanmar, during which he signed 15 agreements, including for a 1,100-km natural gas pipeline.

China's desire to secure alternative sea routes through the Indian Ocean for its energy needs has also made Myanmar strategically significant for Beijing. In August, two warships of the PLA Navy made a port call at Yangon's Thilawa port, a visit seen as Beijing affirming its support to the regime.

November’s elections, taking place after five decades of military rule in the country, have been widely criticised in the West because of government’s control over the process and in light of its past record of human rights violations.

The elections are, however, expected to significantly alter the nation’s politics, bringing in a new generation of leaders as well as introducing regional parliaments that will, according to analysts, help decentralise control.

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