A raging Chinese riddle in Myanmar
Common Myanmar Citizen saw through China’s game of bringing junta back to power, putting its ‘investments’ in jeopardy
The complexity of Myanmar’s social powder keg has always been reduced in favor of simplistic binaries of “pro-China” or “pro-India” assumptions, while the realities have been layered and not obvious. Lazy perceptions that the junta’s rule in Myanmar (1962-2011 or until 2015 with a dummy civilian government) was a Chinese borough or, that after 2015 until the coup of 2021, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD was decidedly ‘pro-India’ are devoid of the underlying subtleties and dynamics at play. The point is that the Chinese were the only great power to support the historic junta government in pariah status because he did not tolerate any “moral consideration” (as for North Korea or Pakistan), even as the Chinese continued to stir up ethnic insurgencies in Myanmar to keep the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) trapped and beholden to Beijing .
The Chinese have ignored international sanctions and provided the besieged junta with arms, essential supplies and diplomatic support for its contentious handling of the Rohingya issue. Given India’s “moral insistence”, New Delhi’s support was fiercer and less friendly for the junta. Yet the generals saw through Chinese duplicity and realized India’s “moral” conundrum in restraint – as unspoken fears about China’s control agenda were clearly felt. Yet popular perceptions of the junta’s preference for China persisted outside Myanmar.
One of those Sino-suspicious Myanmar generals was Min Aung Hlaing, who led the theater-level forces tasked with attacking Chinese-backed insurgent groups during the bloody clashes of 2009 – today Hlaing seized power. absolute by a military coup! But again, only China apparently argued for the junta’s latest takeover, calling it a “local issue” and being neutral. As a result, China’s junta-game view has gained credibility, although this may not be the sincere view shared within the Tatmadaw. But situationally, the junta will have to turn to the Chinese because this remains its only “power option”, despite the underlying currents.
Likewise, contrary to public expectations, Suu Kyi’s government has been extremely accommodating and welcoming to China’s largesse, participation and investment. The NLD had signed 38 contracts, worth an estimated $ 100 billion, with the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (much larger than the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor). So taking a linear “pro-India” or “pro-China” stance on junta or civilian government is easy. Situational reality, realpolitik and strict necessities defined preferences
of the plans in force
Now, given the stakes invested in Myanmar’s economy (also given the fragile status of the CPEC alternative), the Chinese cannot afford to upset the junta that has taken over power – hence, “flexibility.” Chinese amoral makes it the rare country. to defend the return of the junta in world forums. But, for once, beyond the usual compulsions of Myanmar dispensations to remain convinced of China due to their selfish demands and lack of viable alternatives, the Myanmar citizen saw through Chinese “adaptability” to situations, and increasingly blames the invisible “Beijing Hand” for bringing the junta back to power.
As the largest lender, trader and sovereign investor in Myanmar, Chinese “investments” are threatened by public anger. The Chinese Embassy has become a hotspot for protests and whispers from Beijing building “firewalls” to control the internet and the flow of information has grown in popularity. Myanmar’s international “re-pariahisation”, which traditionally led it into the willing arms of the Chinese, may not go so well this time around, given the public pressure.
In an unprecedented blame game, several Chinese factories in Myanmar were targeted and burned down last week. These Chinese-funded projects in the Yangon industrial zone have also housed several expatriates, and the local Chinese embassy has issued several SOSs and warnings to authorities and anti-coup protesters. Chinese government spokesperson Global Times called for the perpetrators to be registered and compensation for the destruction. He warned, “Those who maliciously defame China and launch attacks on Chinese factories are common enemies of China and Myanmar.”
But this time, the Chinese have been caught off guard by trying to be half too smart with their underhanded allegiances and known interference in internal strife. Neither pro-democracy civilian parties nor the junta would willingly court China – but as it emerges as the only bailout option in the country, it is still at the forefront of defining Myanmar’s narrative. But perhaps the Chinese have bit more than they can chew in sanctifying the return of the junta as citizens confused anti-coup sentiment with exploitative and expansionist anti-Chinese sentiment. International sanctions may not have much of an impact given that the junta is well versed in such tactics, as also due to the expected Chinese largesse, but the public perception and expression soaked in blood of anti-Chinese sentiment. offer almost insoluble and insoluble threat to China’s interests. The Chinese clearly face an enigma.
(The writer, a military veteran, is a former lieutenant governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and of Pondicherry. The opinions expressed are personal.)