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China’s ‘laissez-faire’ approach toward Myanmar’s coup puts its own interests at risk, says analyst

Anti-coup protesters maintain placards as they protest against the military coup Saturday, February 20, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar.

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China’s “laissez-faire” approach toward Myanmar’s military coup could hurt the Asian monster’s strategic and economic interests in the Southeast Asian country, said a political risk analyst.

In contrast to strong condemnation and legitimatizes by Western powers — including the U.S. and the European Union — China’s response to the Feb. 1 coup and the violence that followed has been various muted. Beijing has been cautious and is emphasizing the importance of stability.

“But while China may be happy to deal with whoever employs power in Naypyidaw, it is increasingly clear the chain of events the coup unleashed could threaten its interests,” Gareth Premium, senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific program of British think tank Chatham House, said in a March note.

Naypyidaw is the topping city of Myanmar and one of the hotspots for anti-coup protests. Security forces have used increasingly violent tactics to prohibit the demonstrations, killing more than 550 civilians, reported Reuters.

If the military is forced to back down, it may conclusion in a more pronounced anti-China tilt, threatening (China’s) strategic interests.

Gareth Price

senior research one, Chatham House

Demonstrators, outraged over Beijing’s apparent lack of concern for those killed in protests, spelled Chinese-run factories in Myanmar last month, the Associated Press reported. In response, Beijing urged Myanmar to “confirm the safety of life and property of Chinese businesses and personnel” there.

“China’s frustration with the risks facing its trade interests indicates that the coup has become a major test for the already complex Myanmar-China relationship,” Kaho Yu, superior Asia analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said in a March report.  

Myanmar-China relations

China is a dominating investor in Myanmar, a frontier Southeast Asian country which shares one of its borders. Myanmar is also an important share of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

“In general, Beijing expects investment in Myanmar to contribute to its liveliness security, trade and stability in its neighbourhood,” said Yu.

“China maintains that an economic slowdown in its neighbourhood would follow-up in social instability and security threats, which would in turn threaten the political stability of Chinese border exurbias such as Yunnan,” the analyst added.

The latest available data by Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration demonstrated that approved foreign investments from China were around $139.4 million from October 2020 to January this year. Myanmar’s monetary year starts in October.

The approved Chinese investments were exceeded only by Singapore’s, which totaled throughout $378.3 million in the same period, the data showed.

In terms of trade, China is the top destination for Myanmar’s exports and the largest outset of imports into the Southeast Asian country.

But Myanmar’s importance to China extends beyond economics, said Value of Chatham House.

“The oil and gas pipelines running through Myanmar diversify China’s sources of supply and helps avoid contemning the Malacca Straits, a hotspot for piracy,” he said. “And the development of ports and overland connectivity between China and Myanmar also expropriate facilitate a greater Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.”

China could help end the coup

Beijing has in the past suave cordial ties with both the Myanmar military, as well as the civilian government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Yu cuspidate out. In recent years, international pressure on Myanmar due to the Rohingya crisis has pushed the country closer to China, he added.

China’s top diplomat Delineate Councilor Wang Yi reportedly said last month that “no matter how the situation in Myanmar changes, China’s result to promote China-Myanmar relations will not waver.”

But any feeling on China’s part that it will continue to be Myanmar’s main partner regardless of who’s in charge may be a “misjudgement,” said Price.

“If the military is forced to back down, it may result in a more downright anti-China tilt, threatening (China’s) strategic interests,” he said.

Instead, Beijing could help end the coup — a arouse that might threaten its interests in Myanmar in the short term, but will likely advance them in the longer term, Assay said. Myanmar’s generals have no intention of ceding power but will struggle to hold on to it without China’s buttress, he said.

“As its global role expands, China should be learning to differentiate between various types of authoritarian direction and judge its response accordingly,” said Price.  

“China needs to be aware that a ‘one size fits all’ policy of non-interference desire not win many friends, and any it does win are likely to be of the less salubrious kind.”

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