Reporting from New Delhi — When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sits down Thursday with Myanmar's senior military leaders during the first visit to the isolated nation by a top Chinese leader in 16 years, they are expected to announce several economic agreements and promise to continue six decades of strong diplomatic ties.
But as is often the case with diplomacy, the news release almost certainly won't cover the most important and sensitive issues discussed, analysts said. Those include the Myanmar military's future grip on power and both nations' desire for stability on their shared border.
For Myanmar, also known as Burma, the visit should provide a useful endorsement of its political "road map," the cornerstone of which is a promised election this year. The balloting is aimed at convincing the world that the military-led government is becoming more open and democratic, analysts said.
"From the Burmese perspective, it's important that Premier Wen is going at this time," said Derek Tonkin, Britain's former ambassador to Thailand and now chairman of Network Myanmar, a civic group. "It will be seen as a Chinese endorsement of what Burma's doing and their support for the process."
Beijing is probably less interested in encouraging democracy, given its wary view of political reform at home, than in Myanmar's plans for exercising power after the election, which many Western governments have discounted as little more than window dressing.
At the same time, analysts said, Beijing is under some pressure from the West to push for constructive change in Myanmar, as China is one of the few countries with much influence on the isolated government.
"On the surface, China will pressure them to be more of a responsible stakeholder," said Aung Zaw, Thailand-based editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. "China needs to show the outside world it's asking. But the real issue will be how the military leadership is going to shape the postelection government."
Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won the last national elections in 1990 by a wide margin, but the ruling generals refused to recognize the result.
The National League was dissolved last month after refusing to re-register as a political party. Re-registering would have forced it to expel its leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for serving a prison term. Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years in jail or under house arrest because of her political activities.
On Thursday, Wen will meet with Senior Gen. Than Shwe, Prime Minister Thein Sein and other top officials. China is one of Myanmar's principal allies, and the ruling generals have promised to issue a stamp in honor of the visit.
As China ramps up its Myanmar investments in roads, dams, mines, fisheries and pipelines — public works designed in part to transport its southern neighbor's energy reserves north — Beijing is keen to ensure its investments are safe and won't become the target of sabotage.
Three bombs exploded last month at a dam partly funded by the Chinese, killing three workers.
"Since last month, when there were bomb blasts in Kachin state, the Chinese will be very interested in discussing ways to secure their investments," said Htun Htun, a coordinator with India's Burma Center Delhi, an activist group.
Two-way trade in 2009 totaled $2.9 billion, according to official figures, making China Myanmar's second-largest trading partner after Thailand. And as of January, China had invested $1.8 billion in Myanmar, making it that country's third-largest investor after Thailand and Singapore.
Stability along their shared border is also a likely topic of discussion, analysts said. China has expressed concern over its neighbor's bid to force ethnic minority groups in northeast Myanmar to disarm and join the government, amid fears the fighting could spill over into China.
In August, Myanmar troops attacked members of the Kokang minority, a group with ethnic Chinese roots, prompting as many as 30,000 people to flee across the border into China. Beijing is wary of any move that might add to its domestic instability.
Anshul Rana in The Times' New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.