China’s refusal to condemn Myanmar’s military regime endangers its interests in its southern neighbor as anti-Chinese sentiment grows, according to the UK-based think-tank Chatham House.
A report by senior research fellow Dr. Gareth Price said the lack of criticism of Myanmar’s military takeover shows China’s self-interest, saying it is happy to deal with whoever wields power in Naypyidaw.
Price said: “China may feel that, regardless of the outcome, it will continue to be Myanmar’s major partner. But that feeling may be a misjudgment because, if the military is forced to back down, it may result in a more pronounced anti-China tilt, threatening its strategic interests.
“China’s ‘laissez-faire’ attitude so far puts them under threat, as some Chinese factories have been burned down and protesters have threatened to blow up pipelines,” he said.
“The optics surrounding China’s de facto protection of the military are not good internationally,” the political-risk analyst said.
Myanmar is key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), potentially giving Beijing access to the Indian Ocean through the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.
Since the February 1 coup, China and Russia have blocked action at the United Nations Security Council. Anti-Chinese sentiment has rapidly risen in Myanmar and protesters have called for opposition to all Chinese projects and imports.
Beijing has called for dialogue and labeled the coup “an internal affair”, saying the international community should not interfere.
“But were China to stop ‘not interfering’ this could enable broader international action and, although it might threaten China’s interests in Myanmar in the short-term, it would likely advance them in the longer-term,” Price said.
“Myanmar’s generals have no intention of ceding power but, without Chinese acquiescence, they face significant challenges trying to hold on to it.
“China needs to be aware that a ‘one size fits all’ policy of non-interference will not win many friends, and any it does win are likely to be of the less salubrious kind,” he wrote.
The analyst warned that more alarmingly for China was that ethnic armed groups were coming together in opposition to the regime.
“It is also worth considering the situation in Myanmar may yet descend into civil war, particularly given the stance taken by the ethnic groups. That too would threaten China’s interests,” Price said.
Military tensions are rising, especially in Kachin and Shan states, where many Chinese projects are planned, including three cross-border economic cooperation zones, the Muse-Mandalay railway and Myitkyina Industrial Zone.
Fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar’s military is reported across Kachin and northern Shan states. The KIA launched offensives against military and police positions, saying it stands with the protesters.
Moreover, tensions have risen with the Karen Nation Union’s (KNU) in Papun, Nyaunglebin and Thaton districts.
The KNU urged the military to release all detainees and stop all crackdowns on peaceful protesters.
The Brotherhood Alliance, which includes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army, condemned the junta, warning that it is ready to join forces with all ethnic minorities to fight the regime if the killing of protesters continues.
Following the Brotherhood Alliance warning, China has reportedly requested a meeting with the regime over growing concerns about the security of its oil and gas pipelines. China is pressuring the regime to reinforce security for the pipelines, particularly in northern Shan State where tensions are particularly high.
“Were China to take a more critical approach and encourage the military to back down, potentially the coup could be seen as a temporary aberration. The more people die, the less plausible this will be, increasing the likelihood of civil war.” Price said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that at least 564 civilians have been killed by the security forces since the coup.
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