Obama's Myanmar trip 'no threat to Chinese interests'

Yunnan party boss says opening up of former pariah state will bring stability that helps China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 1:01am

A landmark trip by US President Barack Obama to Myanmar this month poses no threat to China's interests in the country, a senior Chinese official from a key border province said yesterday.

Obama will become the first US leader to visit Myanmar, the strongest international endorsement of a fragile democratic transition that his administration believes could help counter China's influence in a strategically important region.

Chinese media, academics and even a few diplomats have worried that US engagement in rapidly democratising Myanmar could threaten Beijing's relationship with what had been an important trade partner and de facto ally.

But Qin Guangrong, Communist Party chief of Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar and has deep business ties with it, said China was fully behind its opening up, especially as peace and stability there would benefit China.

"We understand and support the wish of the Myanmar authorities wanting to open up and become part of the world," Qin said on the sidelines of the Communist Party congress, in rare comments on a sensitive relationship.

"We believe that Myanmar's leaders will exercise their wisdom to lead their country's opening up. They know that the people of China will always be true friends of Myanmar's."

China has long been worried by instability in its much poorer southern neighbour, whether by fighting between Myanmar's government and ethnic rebels spilling over into China or by the flow of drugs in its southwestern provinces.

A stable Myanmar should make it easier for Chinese companies, which have poured vast sums into the country in recent years in the absence of Western investment, to operate more easily. But it will also bring competition, now that the United States and European Union have substantially eased sanctions.

Myanmar's government yesterday hailed Obama's decision to visit the country, noting it would increase the momentum of democratic reform.

Presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay said he believed the "support and encouragement by the US president and American people will strengthen the commitment of President Thein Sein's reform process to move forward without backtracking".

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama intended to "speak to civil society to encourage Burma's ongoing democratic transition".

Matthew Goodman, a former adviser to Obama on international economics, said: "The Myanmar trip is potentially historic, and for that reason has both tremendous opportunity and risk associated with."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse