Regional autocracies Vietnam and China have been the first to congratulate Burma’s new president, Thein Sein, following his ascension last week to the country’s top post.
The incumbent prime minister was nominated by the Presidential Electoral College on 4 February and will reside over what the military junta has termed “discipline-flourishing democracy”.
Chinese President Hu Jintao lost no time in dispatching a letter to his Burmese counterpart on Friday last week. Many commentators noted shortly after Thein Sein’s appointment that the retired army general’s rise was inevitable, given his close relationship with junta chief Than Shwe.
Vietnam’s president, Nguyen Minh Triet, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung followed on Saturday with a congratulatory note. Thein Sein could “attain greater achievements in the national construction and development, actively contributing to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world”, AFP quoted the letter as saying.
Supporting Thein Sein will be two vice presidents, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai Mouk Kham. Although highly feted, corruption accusations have dogged the former, while Sai Mouk Kham, from Shan state, is seen as the token ethnic representative in Burma’s upper echelons. Vietnamese Vice President, Nguyen Thi Doan sent felicitations to Tin Aung Myint Oo, as did Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping,also including Sai Mouk Kham in the message.
The Chinese are seen as the Burmese military’s key ally and trading partner and will want to see a stable Burma, particularly following unrest along their shared border.
Bilateral relations are also strong with Vietnam: the two last August concluded bilateral talks with the opening of a Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam office in Burma, as well as signing a raft of economic deals and a visa waiver scheme.
But it will be seen as telling that the two most forthcoming congratulations of the latest step in Burma’s so-called “roadmap to democracy” have come from two of the region’s non-democratic states.