China to air Burma border concerns

Dec 16, 2009 (DVB), Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping will arrive in Burma this week where he is expected to meet Burma's reclusive leader and discuss Beijing's concerns over border security.

China, despite being a major backer of the military junta, has seen relations strained this year as some 37,000 refugees in August and September fled into China to escape fighting in Burma's northern Kokang region. The porous Shan border is also a major crossing point for Burmese drugs into China.

Xi Jinping will be accorded a rare meeting with the ageing head of Burma's military junta, Than Shwe. The meeting carries added significance given the rumours of potential leadership change looming ahead of next year's elections.

A political analyst based on the China-Burma border, Aung Kyaw Zaw, told DVB today that China are keen not to "lose face" internationally should the elections be deemed by the international community to be rigged and unfair. "The Chinese want to press the [Burmese junta] to negotiate with the opposition for reconciliation," he said.

"There are so many countries who have pressed the Chinese to press the [junta], they have lost face so many times so I think now they want an election with legitimacy and transparency."

Xi Jinping is touted as a likely successor to Premier Hu and he could be crucial for Burma in the coming years as China continues to be Burma's major diplomatic backer, routinely using its UN Security Council veto to block international action on its southern neighbour.

Annual trade between the two nations stands at around $2.6 billion and is growing rapidly. "He is expected to succeed President Hu in 2012 and I think the upcoming visit of his to Myanmar [Burma] is very important for cementing existing ties," one Rangoon-based Asian diplomat told Reuters.

What's more China is continuing to expand its strategic and infrastructural presence in the country as it seeks a link to the Indian Ocean and Burma's oil and gas through its south west. The centre-piece of this exercise has been the controversial Shwe gas pipeline that is currently under construction, with the help of South Korea's Daewoo.

Such projects offer China much needed raw materials and a potential link to the sea for China's western provinces, but China is crying out for stability as the projects grow.

It is tellingly only a week since Indian foreign affairs minister S. M. Krishna met with Burma's prime minister Thein Sein at the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) meeting in Naypyidaw, at which Mr Krishna aired similar concerns regarding Burma's border.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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