Myanmar still 'true friend' of China: top official

YANGON, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Myanmar's new army-backed government reassured China on Friday that its recent diplomatic overtures to the United States would not affect relations with its traditional ally.

"Myanmar is a good neighbour of China. We are also a true friend," lower house speaker Shwe Mann told Ambassador Li Junhua in Yangon after China donated computers for Myanmar's new parliament.

"The People's Republic of China gave much advice and assistance to Myanmar when we did not have a regular relationship with the US. 
China also truly stood by Myanmar's side in the international community," added the former general, considered one of the most powerful members of the current regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar last week in the highest-level US visit in more than half a century -- a trip seen as part of Washington's efforts to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Myanmar's military-backed leadership has counted on China as its main supporter but many people in Myanmar resent Beijing's strong influence.

President Thein Sein surprised even critics when he recently halted work on an unpopular dam that would primarily benefit China.

China reacted to Clinton's visit by urging the United States to lift its sweeping sanctions on Myanmar, a step that Washington says is premature without further reforms.

"We gladly accept your struggle to have a regular relationship" with the United States, Li Junhua told Shwe Mann.

"We firmly believe that our cooperation will increase further under the leadership of the speaker," he added.

Thein Sein, a former general, visited China in May, two months after taking the helm of a new military-backed government.