China VP meets with Myanmar armed forces chief

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2011 6:33 AM
China VP meets with Myanmar armed forces chief

China's vice president met Monday with the head of Myanmar's armed forces amid concerns over the safety of shipping on the Mekong River and just days before a breakthrough visit to the long-isolated country by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Xi Jinping pledged to maintain strong ties with Myanmar and encouraged Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to push for solutions to unspecified challenges in relations, China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"As a component of overall bilateral relations, China-Myanmar military ties have developed very well over the past few years," the statement quoted Xi as saying.

The ministry statement did not directly mention the deaths of 13 sailors killed in an attack on two Chinese cargo ships in early October on the Mekong in Southeast Asia. China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are due to begin joint security patrols on the river next month.

However, the ministry said Myanmar's general pledged to strengthen military exchanges and cooperation to safeguard peace and stability.

The joint security operation's headquarters will be in China, although it isn't clear whether Chinese boats will patrol stretches of the river belonging to its neighbors. China will help train and equip police in Laos and Myanmar.

Drug smugglers were initially suspected in the October attack near the Thai-Myanmar border. But nine Thai soldiers later surrendered.

Beijing has long provided key diplomatic and economic support for Myanmar, but relations have been strained by fighting between Myanmar's army and rebel groups that has sent refugees across the border into southwestern China.

China was also caught off guard by the suspension this summer of a major dam project being built by a Chinese company in Myanmar that presaged a significant about-face in Myanmar's domestic politics.

After a new government took office in March, Myanmar has eased some political restrictions and met with opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. That has earned diplomatic dividends, such as Clinton's visit starting late Wednesday.