A senior Chinese military official said Monday that China cherishes friendly relations with Burma, though it appears to be in the midst of a major change now.
For decades, each time a new Burmese military chief of staff was appointed, like clockwork, he would make his first foreign trip to Beijing, his nation’s firmest diplomatic ally and longtime economic bulwark.
But Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, currently on a visit here, was busy in some unusual places before he came to China. Earlier this month he was talking to the special US envoy to Burma, Derek Mitchell. Then he went to Vietnam. He will be back home later this week when Hillary Clinton makes the first visit to Burma by a US Secretary of State since 1955.
The fact that General Hlaing chose Vietnam, a near neighbor building closer military ties with Washington and making no secret of its nervousness about China’s regional ambitions, has not gone unnoticed in Beijing.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping welcomed Hlaing to Beijing with a reminder that the two countries’ friendship had “endured the test of time through sudden international changes.”
Burma appears in the midst of such a change now, as the new nominally civilian government that took over the reins from the military last March releases political prisoners, reaches out to ethnic minorities to end years of violence, and tests a political opening in talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
China has been a lifeline for Burma, ruled by military dictatorships since 1962 and especially isolated since most nations slapped sanctions on the government after it cracked down brutally on a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.
Now “we want to have a regular relationship” with the United States, the powerful speaker of the Burmese parliament and former member of the military junta Shwe Mann told reporters on Friday.