BEIJING (AP) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing aimed at building ties with her country's powerful neighbor.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said Xi told Suu Kyi that "we appreciate your willingness to boost China-Myanmar ties."
No public events are scheduled during Suu Kyi's low-key five-day visit. China hopes to use the meetings to shore up its declining influence in Myanmar following democratic reforms that have seen the Southeast Asian country shift away from Beijing toward Western nations, Japan and other potential investors.
Citizens in Myanmar, now freer to protest, have stalled a Chinese-backed dam and other projects out of environmental concerns, part of a backlash against China's economic domination of its poor southern neighbor.
China considers Myanmar strategically important as a gateway to the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, and wants to secure oil and gas pipelines in its Southeast Asian neighbor.
However, friction between the two countries has erupted over fighting between Myanmar's military and rebels along the border that killed five Chinese farmers and sent a flow of refugees into China.
Suu Kyi's warming ties with China's authoritarian rulers represent a jarring break from her years as a democracy icon held under house arrest by Myanmar's junta. Human rights groups have urged her to call for the release of Chinese fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was imprisoned for his calls for democracy.
Suu Kyi has maintained since her release in 2010 that her country must maintain friendly relations with China, and the trip demonstrates her determination to accumulate diplomatic credentials to potentially contest Myanmar's presidency no matter how it might clash with her former image.
Suu Kyi's trip is officially a party-to-party meeting between China's Communist Party and her opposition National League for Democracy, which is expected to perform strongly in elections later this year. She is constitutionally barred from contesting the presidency because of a provision barring people who have been married to foreigners, but has campaigned for an amendment that would allow her candidacy.
She is scheduled to meet with Premier Li Keqiang, and unconfirmed Chinese reports say she will also visit the financial hub of Shanghai and Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar.