Beijing [China], April 2 (ANI): China couldn't let go of its "weak" neighbour Myanmar as it provides Beijing with direct access to the Indian ocean and also makes it possible to bypass the contested South China Sea, Bertil Lintner writes in Global Asia.
In the South Korean-based East Asia Foundation, the writer said that China sees Myanmar as the crucial link in Beijing's foreign policy as it will make it possible to bypass the contested and potentially vulnerable Strait of Malacca for exports as well as the import of gas, oil and minerals.
The grip of Myanmar's military on the country since the coup it staged in 2021 remains firm despite continuing armed resistance against its rule. Earlier in 2020, a military junta staged a coup after Aung San Suu Kyi won the election. After this, the West imposed sanctions on Myanmar.
Amid the ongoing West's sanctions against the regime for thwarting the transition to democracy, China has re-emerged as a major geopolitical player in the country.
According to the writer, the importance of Myanmar as an outlet to the Indian Ocean was first outlined by Pan Qi, a former minister, as far back as September 2, 1985, in an article in the Beijing Review.
Now called the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), it is meant to provide China with an outlet for exports to Myanmar and, even more important, beyond. The route broadly follows gas and oil pipelines from the Myanmar coast to Yunnan, which were built in 2013 and 2017.
Plans are also underway for high-speed rail links between Yunnan and Kyaukphyu, a deep-water port on the Bay of Bengal, which also has a 1,600-hectare special economic zone for foreign trade.
It seems that China would like to provide a defence umbrella, which would have to be through support for a loyal Myanmar dependent on China for arms, training and other military cooperation. In the decade after the nationwide uprising for democracy in 1988 that was brutally crushed, Myanmar became isolated internationally and its military had to turn to China for military hardware.
China also helped Myanmar upgrade its naval bases along the coast and on islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Chinese-supplied radar systems were installed in some of these bases, and it is reasonable to assume that China's security services benefited from the resulting intelligence.
Being preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis, the US is not paying much attention to Myanmar. And the same was seen in the State Department statement, released on January 31, the second anniversary of the coup, Washington appears to have outsourced the Myanmar issue to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"We welcome and support the central role of ASEAN in addressing the crisis in Myanmar," support the efforts to "fully implement ASEAN's Five-Point Consensus" and reaffirm "support for the ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar and the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar".
With US preoccupation with global security issues elsewhere has left Myanmar open to renewed Chinese penetration.
As per the author, the Myanmar military may be reluctant to once again become dependent on Chinese arms supplies, but China has since the coup supplied Myanmar with sophisticated electronic surveillance systems, which the generals would have difficulty obtaining elsewhere, including cameras equipped with facial-recognition and license-plate recognition technology.
Such sales increased dramatically in 2022, according to Global Asia citing the industry sources, and the Chinese suppliers have in some instances stripped the equipment of visible branding to obscure the maker and the origin, which could complicate the businesses those companies have in the US and European Union, where strict sanctions apply on entities dealing with the Myanmar junta.
China is the only outside power that has close relations with Myanmar's strongest ethnic armed resistance groups. In late February, Deng Xijun, China's special envoy to Myanmar, held meetings in the border areas with representatives from the Kachin Independence Army, the United Wa State Army and the National Democratic Alliance Army in Shan State. (ANI)