Anti-coup protesters hold placards as they protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday, February 20, 2021.
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China’s “laissez-faire” approach to the military coup in Myanmar could harm the Asian giant’s strategic and economic interests in the Southeast Asian country, a political risk analyst said.
As opposed to strong condemnation and sanctions from Western powers – including the US. and the European Union – China’s response to the February 1 coup and the violence that followed has been more subdued. Beijing has been cautious and stressed the importance of stability.
“China may be happy to deal with whoever is in power in Naypyidaw, but it is becoming increasingly clear what chain of events the coup that has sparked could jeopardize its interests,” said Gareth Price, senior research fellow in the UK’s Asia-Pacific program Think Tanks Chatham House, said in a March note.
Naypyidaw is the capital of Myanmar and one of the hotspots for anti-coup protests. Security forces have increasingly used violent tactics to suppress the demonstrations and kill more than 550 civilians, Reuters reported.
Protesters, outraged by Beijing’s apparent lack of concern for those killed in the protests, attacked Chinese-run factories in Myanmar last month. the Associated Press reported. In response, Beijing pushed Myanmar there “to ensure the safety of the life and property of Chinese companies and employees”.
“China’s frustration with the risks to its economic interests shows that the coup has become a major test of the already complex Myanmar-China relationship,” said Kaho Yu, senior Asia analyst with Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy, in a March report.
Relations between Myanmar and China
China is a major investor in Myanmar, a Southeast Asian border country that shares one of its borders. Myanmar is also an important part of the president Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.
“In general, Beijing expects investing in Myanmar to contribute to its energy security, trade and stability in its neighborhood,” said Yu.
“China claims that an economic slowdown in its neighborhood would lead to social instability and security threats, which in turn would jeopardize the political stability of Chinese border provinces like Yunnan,” added the analyst.
The latest available data The Myanmar Directorate of Investment and Business Administration found that approved foreign investment from China from October 2020 to January this year was approximately $ 139.4 million. The fiscal year in Myanmar starts in October.
The approved Chinese investments were only surpassed by Singapore, which totaled around $ 378.3 million in the same period the data showed.
In terms of trade, China is the main destination for Myanmar’s exports and the largest source of imports into the Southeast Asian country.
But Myanmar’s importance to China extends beyond the economy, said Price of Chatham House.
“The oil and gas pipelines that run through Myanmar diversify China’s sources of supply and help avoid using the Malacca Straits, a hotspot for piracy,” he said. “And the development of ports and the overland connection between China and Myanmar also help enable a greater Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.”
China could help end the coup
Beijing has in the past maintained cordial relations with both the Myanmar military and the civil government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Yu said. In recent years, international pressure on Myanmar has increased due to the The Rohingya crisis has brought the country closer to China, he added.
China’s best diplomatic state councilor Wang Yi According to reports, last month “No matter how the situation in Myanmar changes, China’s determination to promote China-Myanmar relations will not waver.”
But any feeling China has that it will continue to be Myanmar’s most important partner, regardless of who is responsible, could be a “misjudgment,” Price said.
“If the military is forced to withdraw, it can create a stronger lean against China and threaten (Chinese) strategic interests,” he said.
Instead, Beijing could help end the coup – a move that could threaten its interests in Myanmar in the short term but is likely to fuel them in the longer term, Price said. Myanmar’s generals have no intention of relinquishing power but will have difficulty holding onto it without China’s support, he said.
“As China expands its global role, it should learn to differentiate between different types of authoritarian government and judge its response accordingly,” Price said.
“China needs to be aware that a one-size-fits-all policy of non-interference will not make many friends, and anyone it does will likely be less wholesome.”