Reclusive Myanmar leader General Than Shwe arrived in China for a state visit on Tuesday during which he is expected to introduce a new generation of military leaders to one of the country's most important backers.
It is only Than Shwe's third visit since he became head of the ruling regime in 1992, and comes just over a month after he went to India, which has been vying with China for influence in the resource-rich and strategically-located country.
A Myanmar Foreign Ministry source said he was accompanied by a number of new senior military officials and is expected also to brief China on Myanmar's Nov. 7 election, slammed as a farce by the West and human rights groups.
"The worse the regime's ties with the West get, the better its relationship with China becomes," Thakhin Chan Tun, a former Myanmar ambassador to China, told Reuters.
"I think the purpose of this visit is to cement existing friendly ties between the two neighbours and to hand the baton on to a new generation of leaders in both countries.
"He will also explain preparations for pre- and post-election political scenarios to Chinese leaders. Of course, China is the regime's most important and reliable ally," he added.
Than Shwe, 77, will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, but it is not clear if he will meet Vice President Xi Jinping, who is tipped to take over from Hu in 2013.
China is keen to maintain its close ties with Myanmar, coveting its oil and gas and access to the Indian Ocean for poor and landlocked southwestern Chinese provinces. Yet it also frets about drug lords and rebel armies operating along its border.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on the world to support the Nov. 7 elections in the former Burma, at which the ruling junta's civilian proxies are expected to score a resounding victory.
The elections have been widely condemned in the United States and Europe as a charade designed to keep the military in power under a civilian guise.
They say opposite groups, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, are being excluded.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 07 Eylül 2010, 17:23