China's ambassador to Myanmar met with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a government spokesman, in a potential signal that Beijing hopes to take a greater role in the Southeast Asian nation's political transformation.
China also said Dai Bingguo, a top Foreign Ministry official, will attend an economic-cooperation forum in Myanmar beginning next week.
Observers have said China was caught flat-footed by Myanmar's new openness to the West, which comes as the long-ostracized country seeks to reduce its reliance on Chinese military and economic support. Some say a strain with China helped spark Myanmar's recent shifts.
At a daily press briefing on Thursday, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China's ambassador met with Ms. Suu Kyi at her request. Mr. Liu didn't say when the meeting was held, saying 'the date is not important,' and declined to offer additional details. He also wouldn't confirm whether the meeting was the first between a Chinese official and Ms. Suu Kyi.
Ye Htut, a spokesman for Myanmar's Ministry of Information, said the government was unaware of the meeting. 'Even if such a meeting took place, it is NLD's affair,' he said, referring to Ms. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy. He added, 'all embassies and all parties have the right to meet with each other.'
Ms. Suu Kyi has long reached out to foreign leaders and has embraced a U.S. push to re-engage with Myanmar.
Myanmar's military-dominated government─which has long kept a tight grip on the country, to the frustration of Western leaders─has pushed a series of reforms in recent months that led to the release of Ms. Suu Kyi and hundreds of other opposition figures and loosened restrictions on domestic media and the Internet. In response, Hillary Clinton paid the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 50 years to Myanmar two weeks ago and said the U.S. could countenance an eventual easing of sanctions to punish Myanmar's poor human-rights record, provided the Myanmar government satisfied American demands.
China's response was initially cool, with Mr. Liu saying last month that Chinese leaders 'hope the domestic and foreign policies of Myanmar are conducive to peace and stability in Myanmar.' Since then Chinese officials have expressed more support for closer U.S.-Myanmar ties.
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University in Beijing, said Thursday's comments suggest China is further warming up. 'These signs are very encouraging,' Mr. Zhu said. 'It's some sort of signal that Beijing would like to lend a hand and support the new dynamic, the new political transformation.'
China in the past has enjoyed close relations with Myanmar, a strategically important nation in the eyes of Beijing, and Chinese investment had filled a void left by Western sanctions against Myanmar. The two countries are currently building an oil and natural-gas pipeline that would give China an alternative to sending tankers through the Malacca Strait, a shipping choke point closely watched by the U.S. Navy.
But China's growing military presence on Myanmar's border and its efforts to secure natural resources have been unpopular in Myanmar. Its leaders in September suspended the construction of a China-backed dam that had been a sore point among its opposition groups.
China's leaders typically cite the importance of nations' sovereignty in their international dealings, and meetings with opposition leaders are unusual. Mr. Zhu said Ms. Suu Kyi now plays a bigger role in the political process after Myanmar's leaders removed a longtime ban on her party. She is expected to run for a seat in the country's parliament when elections occur.
政府发言人说，中国驻缅甸大使会见了诺贝尔和平奖得主昂山素季(Aung San Suu Kyi)。这可能是一个信号，说明北京希望在这个东南亚国家的政治转型过程中发挥更大作用。
缅甸宣传部发言人Ye Htut说，政府对这次会见不知情。他说，即使确有这样的会见，那也是全国民主联盟(National League for Democracy，昂山素季的政党)的事情。他还说，所有大使馆人员、所有各党派人士都有权相互会见。