China’s envoy in Burma held talks with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday, marking the highest level contact between Beijing and the Burmese opposition in more than 20 years.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin confirmed the meeting although he would not say where or when it was held.
Chinese ambassador Li Junhua “listened to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ideas,” after receiving her request to meet, Liu said.
"Madame Aung San Suu Kyi has proposed a number of times her desire for contact with the Chinese side, and the Chinese ambassador to [Burma’s] meeting was in answer to this," he said.
The last Chinese ambassador to hold talks with the Burmese opposition was Cheng Ruisheng, who met with Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his tenure from 1987 to 1991.
Reuters quoted Aung San Suu Kyi’s chief of staff Khun Tha Myint as saying that Li’s meeting with the pro-democracy leader was held on Dec. 8 at her home in Rangoon and lasted one hour.
"The meeting went very well," he said. "It was very cordial and friendly."
And a retired senior Burmese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that he was pleased that both China and Aung San Suu Kyi "realize the importance of good ties between Burma and China."
"Having good ties between [Burma] and China is very important not only for [Burma] and China but also for the stability and prosperity of the entire region."
Vying for influence
Li’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi follows a visit to Burma by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who earlier this month became the first top level American diplomat to visit the country in more than 50 years.
Both the U.S. and China are seen to be courting Burma in the aftermath of elections which saw the country’s former military regime hand power over to a nominally civilian government.
China had been a long-time ally of the junta, which was responsible for keeping Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for much of the last 20 years, but the opposition leader has said she harbors no ill will towards Beijing.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has relaxed its stance against Burma, although it still maintains economic sanctions, and has encouraged fledgling reforms implemented by President Thein Sein’s new government.
Spokesman Liu also said Chinese Foreign Ministry State Councilor Dai Bingguo will travel to Burma next week for a summit of Mekong River countries. Earlier reports had indicated that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao would attend the conference.
Liu did not elaborate on exactly when Dai, who outranks China’s foreign minister, would travel to Burma or whether he had plans to meet with officials during his visit.
“China has always strived to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with [Burma] and supports the [Burmese] government's efforts to advance economic and social development and promote domestic reconciliation," he said.
In September, the Burmese government suspended plans to build a U.S. $3.6 billion Chinese-backed mega dam on the Irrawaddy River in response to a public outcry over the controversial project.
China's Foreign Ministry responded by urging the Burmese government to "protect the legal and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises," and emphasizing that the 3,600 megawatt dam, which would have supplied 90 percent of its power to China, is a "jointly invested project."
Reported by Joshua Lipes.