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China: Myanmar Sanctions By Western Countries Should Be Lifted

04/ 5/12 06:44 AM ET AP

China Myanmar Sanctions
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses her supporters and the media from the headquarters of her National League for Democracy Monday, April 2, 2012 in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo)

BEIJING -- China on Thursday called for Western countries to immediately lift their punitive sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of by-elections won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

The call by the Foreign Ministry echoes one made by Southeast Asian leaders after a summit Wednesday, where Myanmar's President Thein Sein received a flurry of praise for his country's recent reforms, most recently Sunday's by-elections.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the elections would be good for Myanmar's stability and development, adding that China welcomed reports that Western countries would ease their sanctions and that they should "fully lift" them "as soon as possible."

Hong was speaking a day after the Obama administration said it would soon nominate an ambassador to Myanmar and ease some travel and financial restrictions on the formerly military-run Southeast Asian nation following the historic elections.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also announced that Washington would allow select senior Myanmar officials to visit the United States and ease restrictions on the export of financial services. The U.S. will also open an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Myanmar.

But Clinton said sanctions against people and institutions in Myanmar that try to thwart democratic progress would remain in place.

China has been one of Myanmar's biggest international backers and has poured billions of dollars of investment into the country to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines. China has also been a staunch supporter of the country's politically isolated government.

But ties appear to have cooled recently with China caught off guard by the suspension in September of a $3.6 billion China-funded dam, which was being built by a Chinese company in Myanmar. The project had drawn protests from ethnic and environmental groups, and the suspension marked a significant about-face in Myanmar's domestic politics.

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Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles as she leaves after visiting a polling station in the constituency where she stands as a candidate in Kawhmu on April 1, 2012. Voting began in Myanmar elections seen as a test of the government's budding reforms, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi standing for a seat in parliament for the first time. (CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

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Filed by Ryan Craggs  |