Myanmar’s junta leader Than Shwe on Thursday thanked China for its support of his isolated state and pledged to work with Beijing to maintain stability on their sometimes troubled border.
The 77-year-old senior general made the comments in talks with Premier Wen Jiabao — the last in a series of meetings with top Chinese leaders before he headed to Shanghai to visit the World Expo on Friday.
Than Shwe, whose regime is often criticised in the West for its human rights record and political repression, told Wen he “appreciated China’s aid and support over the years”, according to the Xinhua news agency.
China has long helped to keep Myanmar afloat through trade ties, investments in its large natural resources, arms sales and by shielding it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.
In return, China is assured of a stable neighbour and access to raw materials such as teak and gems from Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.
Ties frayed last year when fighting between junta forces and rebel ethnic armies drove tens of thousands of refugees over the border into China, which issued a rare admonishment to Myanmar.
But Than Shwe told Wen his country would work with China to “jointly maintain peace and stability of the border regions”, Xinhua reported.
The junta leader arrived in China on Tuesday for a state visit two months ahead of Myanmar’s first election in 20 years.
Beijing has hailed the poll as an “important step” on the path to democracy, while Western governments and activists have denounced it as a sham that will only entrench military rule.
“A smooth election in Myanmar is in the fundamental interest of the Myanmar people and conducive to regional peace and stability,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters on Thursday.
“China respects the independently chosen development path of the Myanmar people and hopes that the election can proceed smoothly.”
Than Shwe told Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday that he hoped to “further promote the already existing neighbourly friendship, mutual cooperation and trust between the two countries” during his visit.
The Myanmar strongman was to visit the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, before heading home on Saturday.