Than Shwe to meet China's top leaders

Burma’s reclusive junta chief Than Shwe will make a four-day visit to China next week where he is set to hold talks with both the president and prime minister.

China’s foreign ministry announced the trip on Thursday, and included in the itinerary a visit to Beijing and the Shanghai World Expo.

But it is not known who will accompany the 77-year-old, who rarely leaves Burma and has recently been the subject of speculation about his future as the country’s leader.

Burma’s government is in a state of flux following the alleged retirement of many of its senior officials who appear to be readying themselves for a role in the elections. Burmese analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw, who is based in the China-Burma border, said that it may be the new army officials that have replaced the top brass who join Than Shwe in China.

He added that the contentious issue of ethnic armies based close to the shared border may feature highly during the talks on Tuesday.

“China is the closest friend of Burma so [the junta] has to keep them informed and introduce new officials to them. It is likely the new Joint Chief of Staff will be making another trip himself.”

The junta’s third-in-command Shwe Mann reportedly retired from his military post as Joint Chief of Staff last week and has been replaced by Min Aung Hlaing, who previously headed the Bureau of Special Operations.

Aung Kyaw Zaw added that the Burmese delegation would also likely brief the Chinese on elections slated for 7 November – the Election Commission has decided not to hold polls in five of the townships along the shared border, many of which are controlled by the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA).

China’s investments in Burma have soared in recent years and it now ranks closely behind Thailand and Singapore as the third largest trading partner. According to AP, up to January 2010, it had invested US$1.8 billion in Burma, or 11.5 percent of its neighbour’s total foreign direct investment.

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