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Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to pay “special attention” to ties with China when her party takes office after its election triumph, and said foreign investments would need public support to help improve relations.
In an interview with China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader said Burma had no enemies, but relations with neighbours were more sensitive than others and needed to be carefully handled.
China was Burma’s lifeline for two decades when sanctions prevented most Western businesses and financial institutions from engaging with the country during military rule from 1962 to 2011 that left the nation underdeveloped.
But the stakes are now far higher for Beijing, with business competition heating up and the NLD’s anticipated sweeping-out of the last remnants of the old military guard with which Chinese firms enjoyed a close bond.
“Ties between neighbours are always more delicate than that between countries far apart,” Suu Kyi said.
“We’ll pay special attention to our relations in order to make them smooth, effective and clear.”
Mistrust still lingers in Burma over China’s involvement in its nationwide peace process. Ties have been strained over Burma’s domestic border conflicts, some of which have spilled into China and killed civilians.
Burma’s exiting President Thein Sein lifted martial law in the restive Kokang region near China on Tuesday, saying peace had been restored.
Military rule was imposed in February after fighting erupted between the government and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, a rebel militia born out of the former China-backed Communist Party of Burma.
Suu Kyi said Burma’s foreign policy was about balance and China and Burma could have a good friendship.
“We maintain friendly ties with friends from far and near,” she said. “There’s no reason establishing a friendship is impossible, if both parties are willing.”
China could face a challenge in maintaining its influence in Burma as the United States pays closer attention and Japanese and Asian firms compete for contracts.
Many European and US companies are expected to set up shop after the clear mandate for change in the 8 November election, the first free poll in a quarter century.
Complicating the business picture for China is the fact that its Burma investments have historically been unpopular, fuelling perceptions of graft, land grabs, shady deals with generals and the plunder of natural resources.
Without mentioning China specifically, Suu Kyi said it was vital for investors targeting Burma to win public confidence, and for the government to be transparent and welcome business that was in the country’s interests.