By WAI MOE (Irrawady News)
High-ranking delegations from two key Southeast Asian nations visited Naypyidaw and met Burmese President ex-Gen Thein Sein and his key cabinet members this week, while Burma upgrades its relationship with the closest ally, China, to a “strategic partnership.”
Burmese state-run media reported on Thursday and Friday that Thailand’s military delegation and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, who came to Burma as a special envoy, held meetings with Thein Sein and the powerful vice president, ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, and other top officials of Burma.
On Wednesday, Thein Sein and Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of defense services, met Thailand’s supreme commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabatara in Naypyidaw. It is the second Thai high-ranking military visit to Thailand’s western neighbor in two weeks after Royal Thai Navy chief Adm Khamthorn Pumhiran visited Naypyidaw last week to meet top Burmese generals.
“The two sides discussed matters for promoting friendly relations between the armed forces, and cooperation between the two armed forces for ensuring stability and peace in border areas,” The New Light of Myanmar reported about Songkitti Jaggabatara and Min Aung Hlaing’s meeting before the meeting with Thein Sein.
During Tin Aung Myint Oo’s meeting with Vietnamese counterpart Hoang Trung Hai on Thursday, the vice president thanked Vietnam for its support in international and regional issues, the state media reported.
Like the Thai general’s visit in Naypyidaw, the Vietnamese delegation also highlighted security issues as Vietnam’s deputy defense minister, Lt-Gen Nguyen Chi-Vinh, held a separate meeting with Burmese defense minister Maj-Gen Hla Min on Thursday.
A day earlier, Nguyen Chi-Vinh was in Indonesia for the 8th Security Policy Conference of the Asean Regional Forum.
Although the Burmese state media did not elaborate, regional security issues were on the Thai and Vietnamese delegations’ agendas in Naypyidaw, a Burmese intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
The source said the visitors from the two Southeast Asian nations raised their concerns about China’s influence in Burma, particularly regarding the Chinese navy’s potential mobilization in Burmese waters.
“Both Thai and Vietnamese delegations were concerned about China’s involvement and movements in Burma. The Thai military delegation also focused on border issues,” the source said. “India also recently sent an intelligence delegation to Burma over the Chinese naval issue.”
According to information from Burmese intelligence sources, Beijing has increasingly expressed its desire for security access in Burma during meetings with its counterparts from Naypyidaw in the past four months to protect its strategic interests in the country, particularly China’s energy routes in the Bay of Bengal and the Sino-Burmese oil-gas pipelines.
Beijing and Naypyidaw reportedly discussed the navy issue during Thein Sein’s China trip on May 26-28 when the two countries announced the “strategic partnership.” But it is still unknown whether top brass in Naypyidaw, particularly the former military chief and apparent de-facto leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, agreed to the Chinese navy’s presence in Burma.
Within a week of Thein Sein’s Beijing trip, Li Yuanchao, a Politburo member of the Communist Party of China, came to Naypyiaw and met Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo on June 2. Although the Burmese state media reported Li Yuanchao’s meeting with Tin Aung Myint Oo, it did not report a meeting between the Chinese Politburo member and Thein Sein. However, China’s Xinhua reported Thein Sein-Li Yuachao’s meeting.
In an article entitled “Myanmar: China’s takeaway kitchen” in this week’s edition, The Economist magazine covered China’s increasing influence in Burma. It also mentioned China’s demands for naval access from Naypyidaw.
“As its economic interests have grown, China has pressed for more access to Myanmar’s harbors and territorial waters, to monitor the security of the new port and pipelines, and to keep an eye out for pirates,” The Economist said.
“But this is a neuralgic issue for a country with a deep-seated suspicion of its powerful northern neighbor.”