Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wraps up visit to China

China's President Xi Jinping and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi pose for pictures during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on June 11, 2015. The Myanmar opposition leader wrapped up her first visit to Chi
China's President Xi Jinping and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi pose for pictures during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on June 11, 2015. The Myanmar opposition leader wrapped up her first visit to China on Sunday, June 14, ahead of Myanmar elections in November. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrapped up her first visit to China on Sunday, a trip that saw her meet the country's President Xi Jinping ahead of Myanmar elections in November.

Pictures of her trip posted online showed her meeting Mr Xi and other Communist party officials, visiting the Great Wall of China and practicing calligraphy. Ms Suu Kyi visited Beijing, Shanghai and Yunnan province, which shares a border with Myanmar.

Beijing was a key backer of Myanmar's former military junta while it was under Western sanctions - most of which have been lifted since 2011 - and a much-needed international ally for a brutal regime that crushed dissent and kept Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than 15 years.

She met Mr Liu Jiheng, the Communist Party secretary of Yunnan, in Kunming, the provincial capital, on Saturday, according to the Yunnan Daily. During the meeting, Ms Suu Kyi said Yunnan's experience with economic development was a model worth bringing to Myanmar, according to the report, with Liu emphasising the shared ethnic populations across the two sides of the border.

"Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to China will strengthen ties between the two sides as well as mutual understanding between Chinese leaders and the renowned Myanmar political figure," said a commentary from the official Xinhua News Agency on Friday.

But China-Myanmar relations have cooled as the country has introduced democratic reforms and opened up economically to the West while in recent months an ethnic insurgency in the Kokang region of Myanmar has spilled over the border into China.

The visit comes as Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party is expected to perform strongly in elections later this year and China looks to develop a rapport with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Suu Kyi came to China at the invitation of the Communist Party, of which Mr Xi is the general secretary.

"China and Myanmar are close, friendly neighbours," Mr Xi said during their meeting, according to Xinhua.

"China always looks at the China-Myanmar relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective," he added.

"We hope and believe that the Myanmar side will also maintain a consistent stance on China-Myanmar relationship and be committed to advancing friendly ties, no matter how its domestic situation changes." It is rare for China to invite an opposition leader to visit, given its policy of avoiding involvement in what it calls the internal affairs of other countries.

Still, Ms Suu Kyi's welcome has all the hallmarks of an official visit - the imposing Great Hall of the People is where Mr Xi regularly welcomes visiting heads of state.

Since launching reforms in 2011, Myanmar President Thein Sein has reached out to the United States and other countries.

But the 69-year-old Ms Suu Kyi is unable to stand for president herself because of a law scripted by the junta forbidding people who have been married to foreigners - as she was before her British husband's death - or those who have foreign children from running for president, something she is trying to change.

There is also considerable irony in China welcoming a noted democracy advocate and Nobel Prize winner while Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner, languishes in prison after being sentenced to 11 years in 2009 for circulating a petition calling for democratic reforms.