Burma assures China on border and pipeline

Dec 21, 2009 (DVB), Escalating tensions between China and Burma earlier this year appear to have been tempered after the Burmese junta reassured Beijing over border stability and pipeline security.

The pledges came directly from Burma's junta chief, Than Shwe, who met with a visiting Chinese delegation, led by vice president Xi Jinping, at the weekend in Burma's remote capital of Naypyidaw.

"China and Myanmar [Burma] share a long joint border, and Myanmar deeply understands and knows that maintaining peace and stability on the border is extremely important to both countries," said Than Shwe, according to a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry website.

He added that China felt "happy" at Burma’s "road map" to democracy, which includes elections next year that critics claim will cement military rule in the country.

Relations between the two countries soured in August and September this year after fighting in Burma's northeastern Shan state sparked an exodus of 37,000 Burmese into China.

Since the fighting died down in early September, the Burmese army expanded its troop presence in the region, which is home to Burma's largest ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

The fighting occurred near to the planned route of 771-kilometre oil and gas pipelines which will connect Burma's eastern Bay of Bengal shipping ports and gas reserves to southern China. The deal stipulates that Burma will ensure the safety of the pipeline.

China is a key backer of the Burmese junta, and investments in the country have kept it from all-out economic collapse in the face of more than a decade of international sanctions.

The pipeline deal between the two countries was formally signed at the weekend, with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) given exclusive rights to build and operate the pipeline. China had begun construction of a deep-sea port in the Bay of Bengal on 31 October.

The pipeline, which will initially carry around 12 million tonnes of oil per year to Yunnan province, is strategically important for China, which currently relies on the congested Strait of Malacca, beneath Singapore, to received Middle Eastern oil.

Around one quarter of the world's shipped oil passes through the Strait, which China fears could one day be blocked by US warships stationed there.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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