China on Thursday called for Western countries to immediately lift their punitive sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of by-elections won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

The call by the Foreign Ministry echoes one made by Southeast Asian leaders after an ASEAN summit on Wednesday, where Myanmar's President Thein Sein received a flurry of praise for his country's recent reforms, most recently Sunday's by-elections.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the elections would be good for Myanmar's stability and development, adding that China welcomed reports that Western countries would ease their sanctions and that they should “fully lift” them “as soon as possible.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also announced that Washington would allow select senior Myanmar officials to visit the United States and ease restrictions on the export of financial services. The U.S. will also open an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Myanmar.

Ms. Clinton said that the United States would complete formalities “in the coming days” to send an Ambassador to Myanmar, completing a promised upgrade to full relations after a two-decade gap.

She hailed the “leadership and courage” of President Thein Sein. “The United States will stand with the reformers and the democrats both inside the government and in the larger civil society as they work together for that more hopeful future that is the right of every single person,” Ms. Clinton told reporters

Ms. Clinton — who paid a landmark visit to Myanmar in December — said that the State Department would also allow select officials and lawmakers to visit the U.S. and that U.S. private organisations would be allowed to conduct a greater range of work inside Myanmar, including on health and education.

Conditional

But Ms. Clinton said sanctions against people and institutions in Myanmar that try to thwart democratic progress would remain in place. A number of tough sanctions set by the U.S. Congress including a ban on its key exports such as jade will remain in place.

China has been one of Myanmar's biggest international backers and has poured billions of dollars of investment into the country to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines. China has also been a staunch supporter of the country's politically isolated government.

But ties appear to have cooled recently with China caught off guard by the suspension in September of a $3.6-billion China-funded dam, which was being built by a Chinese company in Myanmar. The project had drawn protests from ethnic and environmental groups, and the suspension marked a significant about-face in Myanmar's domestic politics.

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