The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s wide-ranging economic interests in Myanmar have likely led to a muted response to the military coup in the country from Beijing, according to a Chinese political commentator.
While the United States and its allies have strongly condemned the military’s dismantling of the country’s democratically elected government and the detention of its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, China’s public response has been to “note” what is occuring and to say it is monitoring the situation closely.
As the military imposed a “one-year state of emergency” under military chief Min Aung Hlaing, Chinese spokesman Wang Wenbin announced:
“We have taken note of what is happening in Myanmar and are learning more about the situation,” Wang said.
He added: “China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar. We hope that all parties in Myanmar will properly handle their differences … and maintain political and social stability.”
The emphasis on “stability” speaks to both wide-ranging economic ties between the two countries, and their shared political authoritarianism, former Tsinghua University politics lecturer Wu Qiang told RFA.
Wu said if Myanmar had continued in the direction of greater democracy under the NLD, its foreign policy could have eventually shifted to favor closer ties to Washington.
But Wu said the fact remains that its economic interests are much more closely allied with China.
“There is no conflict with China in terms of economic interests,” Wu said. “But if Myanmar were more democratic, there would be an ideological conflict.”
“This deviation is something China does not want to see, and it is a very important reason why we believe that the CCP supports the military coup in Myanmar.”
Hervé Lemahieu, who directs the Power and Diplomacy Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia, said China, at the very least, is unlikely to have a problem with the new regime in Naypyidaw.
The CCP had been willing to cooperate both with the NLD government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military junta in the past, and would likely support whichever government was in power, he told RFA.
Beijing has also provided diplomatic support for Myanmar when it faced international censure over military atrocities, both in the 1990-2011 junta period and this week, when it held up effort to condemn the Feb. 1 military coup.
Other analysts have suggested that Myanmar’s military leaders are highly suspicious of China, both for its increasing economic influence on their country and its history of arming separatist-mind ethnic armies fighting the Myanmar central government.
But Wu said Beijing is far more likely to approve than disapprove of the military coup.
“This mutual recognition of the ruling parties’ political models forms a crucial link between their ideologies,” Wu said.
Infrastructure hurdles lifted?
He said a military regime would be less likely to place obstacles in the way of major Chinese infrastructure projects in Myanmar than a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
“The Chinese government benefits greatly from building dams and oil pipelines in Myanmar,” Wu said. “Under the NLD, the government would have placed restraints [on such projects].”
“The military coup means that that those restraints will now be lifted, and various infrastructure projects in Myanmar will now be able to go ahead smoothly and more rapidly,” he said.
He said Chinese companies also once needed to compete with Japanese investors for projects in Myanmar; a pressure which would now likely also be lifted with the imposition of international economic sanctions following the coup.
China’s international infrastructure investment project, the Belt and Road initiative, currently includes the flagship China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has already indicated that Beijing is willing to speed up the construction of the western, northern, and eastern ends of the CMEC.
Chinese state media reported last month that Wang is keen to promote an early implementation of the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone and New Yangon City.
The CMEC bisects the northern part of the country and ends at the $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu in southern Rakhine state along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. It includes plans for an U.S.$8.9 billion high speed rail link from Yunnan, as well as gas and oil pipelines.
China is also increasingly dependent on rice imports from Myanmar, with rice imports soaring from 100,000 tons to 500,000 tons in the past decade, accounting for 65 percent of Myanmar’s total export trade with China.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Chan Chun-ho for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.