China has pumped more than $8 billion into Myanmar over the past year [EPA]

China has hailed Myanmar as a "friendly neighbour" and warned the world not to meddle in its  forthcoming election.

Than Shwe, Myanmar's military leader, whose government has drawn international condemnation for its human rights record, arrived in China on Tuesday, for a four-day visit that will include a meeting with Hu Jintao, the Chinese President.

"China and Myanmar are friendly neighbours and this year marks the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties,"  said Jiang Yu, the foreign ministry spokeswoman.

"We are willing to take this opportunity to further consolidate our traditional friendship and make new contributions to regional peace and stability."

While Myanmar is the subject of tough Western sanctions, China - the junta's main trading partner and an eager investor in the isolated state's sizeable natural resources - called for even closer ties with its neighbour.

Myanmar will hold its first election in 20 years in November but pro-democracy parties allege that restrictions imposed by the military government will virtually ensure it wins the poll.

Jiang deflected questions about Myanmar's human rights record and whether China's support has helped keep the military government in power.

But she said that China hopes "the international community can provide constructive help" for the polls and "refrain from any negative impact on the domestic political process of Myanmar and on regional peace and stability".

She would provide no specifics on what Than Shwe would discuss with Chinese leaders, or on the reason for the visit.

Besides meeting Hu and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, in Beijing, Than Shwe will travel to Shanghai to see the World Expo and will visit Shenzhen, southern China's booming export hub, during his visit that is scheduled to end on Saturday.

China has long helped to keep Myanmar afloat through trade ties, arms sales, and by shielding it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

Two Chinese warships made a rare visit to Myanmar last week to promote military ties, Chinese state media reported

Source: Agencies