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Burma Hosts First High-Level ASEAN Meeting, Boasts of Close China Relations

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has opened its first high-level meeting as chair of ASEAN by saying relations with China will be enhanced by its leadership of the regional bloc.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began meeting Thursday in the ancient Burmese city of Bagan. It is the first high level ASEAN meeting since Burma took over as chair at the beginning of the year.

Burmese presidential spokesman Ye Htut told reporters that Burma's policy of mutual understanding with China is a strength in solving regional problems, including the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"I believe that we will get the trust of all parties concerned due to our traditional, independent and active foreign policy. Again, the mutual trust and good relationship between China and our country is a strength in resolving, as chairman, the regional problems."

The ASEAN nations of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia are all involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told reporters his country will also act fairly towards the United States, which says it does not take a position on the sovereignty disputes, but has consistently criticized Chinese moves it calls aggressive.

"Myanmar will be acting as coordinator between ASEAN and the United States of America until 2015. That is why relations with the U.S. are good and improving. Myanmar's foreign policy is to have good relations with any country. Although relations got frozen at some point due to different situations and different political systems, the relationship now is very warm and good."

Burma's role chairing ASEAN follows political reforms that have led to the lifting of most international sanctions.

Thein Sein's government has won praise for freeing hundreds of political prisoners, lifting censorship laws and holding elections in which many opposition members won seats in parliament.

Critics, however, say the country has not done enough, pointing to continuing sectarian violence against Muslims and the country's remaining political prisoners.

Burma, which joined ASEAN in 1997, was passed over for the chairmanship in 2006.

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