Image Courtesy: Global Times
China shares a border of 2204 kilometres and a complicated history with Myanmar. The relationship between China and the junta has been rocky because of the Chinese funding and supplying arms to Myanmar’s rebel groups (KLA). The cordial relationship it shares with the Tatmadaw now is solely to take advantage of the political instability and make use of the geostrategic placement of Myanmar which grants China direct access to the Indian Ocean.
The Military Coup
When the Myanmar military staged a coup on February 1, 2021, many countries including the US and India expressed their concerns about the military dictatorship taking over the already delicate democracy. In the meanwhile, Chinese media has termed the coup as a "major cabinet reshuffle"[i]. China has also declined to condemn the development in Myanmar.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visiting Myanmar in July 2021, indirectly extended political recognition to the junta which it has already been seeking.[ii] After the junta took over Myanmar residents protested against China for supporting the military dictatorship.
Source:Swarajya- Anti-China protests in Myanmar
Several protesters blamed that, China was the reason behind the coup which took place a few days after a meeting between Wang Yi and Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief and current head of the military government. China’s policy of “no interference”[iii] in the internal affairs of another country is becoming hard to defend when it supplies arms and surveillance technology to the military leadership, which is used by the junta to kill innocent civilians and peaceful protesters.
China’s Interest in Myanmar
China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade worth around 12 billion dollars; its investment is nearly USD 21 billion, making up 26% of its FDI and 33% of Myanmar’s foreign trade.[iv] China views Myanmar as the key player in its Belt and Road Initiative. China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is invested in achieving connectivity between China’s southwestern province of Yunnan and the eastern Indian Ocean.
Source: The Economist
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and a deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu are two important strategic interests of China since it gives it access to the Indian Ocean. The ports being developed in Gwadar as part of the CPEC and Kyaukpyu will lower China’s dependence on the Malacca straits which is the vital trade link between India and the Pacific oceans. It also helps China in strategically containing India by blocking its access to both west and the east.
India becomes the main target in many ways than one, the proposal to build roads from the Yunnan province to Myanmar from Kunming to Kyaukpyu through railway lines makes it just one step easier for Chinese troops to land in the backyard of India. The Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone (KPSEZ) and the deep-sea port also pose a threat to India because of their proximity, it is situated to the Sittwe Port and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[v]
The condemning and sanctions issued by countries against Myanmar’s junta are only benefitting China. It has a subtle dominance over Myanmar making the country dependent on it for economic, political and strategic support. Myanmar not being able to repay China is not very far in the future since most of the projects are Chinese funded and Chinese owned. Myanmar can face the same fate as Sri Lanka and there is a strong possibility of Hambantota repeating itself in the form of Kyaukpyu.[vi]
The junta has always had a suspicion when it comes to China because of its history of funding rebel groups,[vii] but its mistrust towards China is downplayed or conveniently ignored for the time being because the junta’s source of recognition and any form of aid comes from China.
(Ms. Dhanya D is a Research Officer at C3S. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S.)
[i] Myanmar coup just a “cabinet reshuffle”: Chinese state media. (2021, February 2). The Times of India. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/myanmar-coup-just-a-cabinet-reshuffle-chinese-state-media/articleshow/80643954.cms
[ii] Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Myanmar visit lent credibility to military regime. ANI News. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/chinese-foreign-minister-wang-yis-myanmar-visit-lent-credibility-to-military-regime20220715173557/
[iii] China and Myanmar: No interference? (2021, March 23). The Irrawaddy. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/guest-column/china-myanmar-no-interference.html
[iv] Sumanthi. (2021, April 26). Understanding the relations between Myanmar and China. ORF. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/understanding-the-relations-between-myanmar-and-china/
[v] Gravitas: China using Myanmar to spy on India? (2022, July 13). [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLbtu996xkg&feature=youtu.be
[vi] Sumanthi. (2021, April 26). Understanding the relations between Myanmar and China. ORF. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/understanding-the-relations-between-myanmar-and-china/
[vii] Jennings, R. (2019, December 25). Myanmar, Though Suspicious of China, Edges Closer to Beijing for Safety. VOA. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.voanews.com/a/east-asia-pacific_myanmar-though-suspicious-china-edges-closer-beijing-safety/6181601.html