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China’s hide and seek game in Myanmar

China’s new arms deals with the junta and lack of willingness to facilitate contacts with the European Union shed a light on the real intentions of the Communist Party

By Robert Bociaga

The resistance movement was wrong in hoping that China’s stance on Myanmar was shifting.   

The junta is reportedly obtaining military equipment from China – this time, however, with Pakistan serving as a middleman. Pakistan’s officials paid recently visit to Naypidaw, while the training of Myanmar officers occurred in Islamabad. 

This shows that with the blessing of China, once lukewarm relations between Pakistan and Myanmar, can flourish like never before. In previous years, Myanmar generals suggested that Pakistan arms the Rohingyas, leading to a backlash in diplomatic relations.

This move shows China’s efforts to conceal its true intentions away from the pro-democracy movement. It uses a reliable third-party to advance its interests in this strategic part of the Asia-Pacific.

In addition, the country remains reluctant to facilitate contacts between the European Union and China’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Sun Guoxiang, showing its disregard toward external partners. China wants to remain exclusive with the junta, that is why they do not share the details about their diplomatic efforts. 

The recent exclusion of Myanmar from the ASEAN summit shows some degree of indignation from the block toward the junta that has blocked the effective implementation of the so-called five points consensus. 

The isolation of the junta on the international stage does not, however, impact the generals to a degree that they would change their attitude. 

While China’s help toward the resistance movement is not likely to come, the USA has recently addressed Singapore that have a substantial financial leverage over the junta. It is uncertain how the Lion City will behave. Theoretically, the city-state’s status as a safe haven for all sorts of financial activities might be strained.

Without a doubt, the regime has an access to the foreign currency counted in billions, and this is the only thing keeping it running and killing. 

Against this backdrop, Myanmar currency has depreciated significantly, driving up food and fuel prices, and deepening the humanitarian crisis.

Beijing took side of a seemingly stronger party of the conflict, yet in the face of the unrelenting opposition to the junta across the country, it has been forced to maneuver.

Consequently, they opposed the dissolution of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and also invited their party members for an online meeting. In addition, the September visit of the Chinese representatives to the junta was not given much attention in the junta’s mouthpieces, prompting a lot of speculations.

Hopeful of the major shift in the relations between the junta and China, these actions were interpreted by many as a prelude to giving a green light by Beijing to the pro-democracy movement. 

However, this all happened after the months of China’s cementing its interests with the junta. 

Initially, China was threatened by the resistance movement for not condemning the coup and blocking the efforts at the UN Security Council against the coup leaders. Some warned that they would destroy the pipeline linking the China’s landlocked Yunnan Province with the Indian Ocean, yet the most popular forms of expressing anger occurred during the anti-Chinese protests, calling for the boycott of products made in China. 

Understandably, China sought protection from the generals. The first known interaction between China and the junta occurred on February 23rd, at a meeting focused on China’s concerns about the security. Later on, China requested the military regime to increase its troops along the pipeline, fearing that fighting resumes in northern Shan State. 

Despite this, the anti-junta forces were able to attack a security personnel guarding China’s off-take station in Mandalay Region. This made General Min Aung Hlaing to publicly vow to protect all foreign investments and explain that anti-Chinese sentiments was fueled by the current state of politics.

In the light of new evidence, it remains to be seen how the resistance movement will recalibrate their positions on China. 

For the Communist Party, what had looked like as a safe bet, it might turn out a gross overestimation

Robert Bociaga (www.robert-bociaga.com) is a journalist, writer and photographer focused on Southeast Asia. He tweets at @BociagaRobert

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