A top Chinese official was in Burma at the weekend to meet the new government in a sign that the strong ties between the two countries are set to continue into the future.
Jia Qinglin, former mayor of Beijing and now the chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, is the highest-ranking official to visit Burma since Premier Wen Jiabao was there in June last year.
He also becomes the first foreign official to meet with the new Burmese government which was sworn in on 30 March with former military general, Thein Sein, as president.
“In my opinion, China is…making it clear that [it] will maintain a good relationship with Burma, no matter what,” said political analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw.
Last year China become the leading investor in Burma, pumping more than $US8 billion into the economy in 2010 alone, the majority of which has targeted the energy sector. This economic relationship has in turn provided Burma with a powerful ally in the international political arena.
“As usual, they will suck out all the resources from Burma [and] make investments for their own benefit without utilising Burma’s human resources [in Burma] or sharing their technology,” Aung Kyaw Zaw continued. “So China’s policy on Burma only focuses on benefits for their own nation and people. This is very damaging to our country.”
The quick dispatch of Qinglin to Burma is also symptomatic of the way China has outmuscled regional competitors to become the number one foreign force in the pariah: Thailand was the first to officially recognise the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) after it seized power 22 years ago, but has yet to congratulate Thein Sein’s new government.
Wen’s visit to Burma last year was the first by a Chinese premier in 16 years, and was accompanied by the signing of a raft of trade deals. He also met with Than Shwe, the reclusive junta strongman who today officially retired from his post to make way for the new government.
Observers met last week’s transfer of power with scepticism, claiming that overwhelming number of former junta officials in key positions in the new government made any chances of legitimate civilian rule unlikely.
“President Thein Sein’s inaugural address painted a picture of an idealistic and hopeful future and contained heavy-handed references to ‘good governance’, ‘rule of law,’ and ‘democracy’, which not only read like a checklist of principles to appeal to the sensibilities of the international community, but also stand in stark contrast to his past actions,” said the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB) in a statement today.
“[His] speech casually ignored the fact that the elections [on 7 November last year] were carried out without regard for the principles of democracy or the rule of law.”