Chinese President Xi Jinping (L), Myanmar President Win Myint (2nd L) and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (2nd R), attending a ceremony marking Myanmar and China’s 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations in Naypyidaw. Photo: AFP/handout
The Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Myanmar on January 17-18 2020, it was the first visit by a Chinese president in 19 years.
The visit assumes significance as it came amidst the on going China -US trade war, that shows no signs of stopping as well as in time when Myanmar is once again being isolated in the comity of nations on its human right records after the Rohingiya crisis. The International Court of Justice, last week ordered for emergency steps to be taken to protect Rohingya from genocide.
The joint statement issued after Xi’s visit read,
“The two sides reached broad understanding through in-depth exchange of views on consolidating traditional bonds of friendship between Myanmar and China, promoting comprehensive strategic cooperation and building Myanmar-China Community with a Shared Future based on the aims of mutual benefits, equality and win-win cooperation.”
Both China and Myanmar have shared a cordial relationship, with China being the major bulwark in keeping the Mayanmares Junta in power and providing it much needed economic investment as well as providing support to the regime by facilitating multiple ceasefire negotiations with insurgent groups within Myanmar.
For China a stable and peaceful Maynmar is vital for its geo-strategic interest as well as in its pursuit of becoming a global power.
In the imperialistic ambition of China, Myanmar is a vital prop, and Bejing well understands this.
Myanmar, is vital for China in several ways.
China wants to push forward the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). CMEC is part of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, that enatails building of several infrastructure projects linking the relative less developed southern region of China with Maynmar.
Via CMEC, China wants to have access to the Indian Ocean, that would considerably shorten its oil and gas import route from the Persian gulf region and also open the southern region to world market.
Even though China has reduced its oil import from Iran in wake of US santions against Tehran, yet it is not clear that it is not importing any oil from it. Apart from oil China is importing large amount of non oil products. As the Washington based Foundation for Defense of Democracies reported,
“The latest Chinese data shows that, in the first seven months of 2019, China imported $1.43 billion of polyethylene from Iran, an amount comparable to its imports during the corresponding period of 2018 and higher than those in the corresponding period of 2017. In terms of weight, China’s imports of polyethylene from Iran have increased significantly, rising from 1.2 million tons in the first seven months of 2018 to 1.4 million tons in the same period of 2019.“
The CMEC like its counterpart in Pakistan the CPEC has military angel to it as well.
Like Gwadar port in Pakistan, China is also aiming to have similar set up in Kyaukpyu, a port in Maynmar. Kyaukpyu is situated in the Rakhine state in western Mayanmar and is a natural harbour along the Bay of Bengal.
In 2018, China had signed deal with Mayanmar to develop the port.
Chinese state-owned firms have reached agreements with Myanmar to construct a $7.3 billion deep-water port and $2.7 billion industrial area in a special economic zone at Kyaukpyu.
Though, currently both the parties are stating that the development of the port is only going to be commercial alliance, yet when would the Chinese diplomacy kick in and convert commercial to military is everyone’s guess.
With the current state of affairs China it seems has firmly again managed to bring Mayanmar to it’s side.
In doing so it has managed to isolate and out smart its traditional rival India. It may be noted that India was vigorously lobbying against the BRI and was trying to winover countries like Mayanmar amd Bangladesh.
But, the current government’s obduracy as well as series of diplomatic blunders have all gone against New Delhi.
The India driven India’s Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has proved to be a non starter and has almost hit a deadend.
With CPEC and CMEC in place China has succeeded in engulfing India to certain degree. The new government in Sri Lanka that is known to be overtly pro-China, India is fast loosing its influence in what was once called Indian lake.
With Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar all agreed to join the BRI, India stands badly isolated.
Its attempt to bypass SAARC has not borne the desired fruit on the contrary it has further isolated its traditional neighbours and all weather friend like Nepal.
With NRC-CAA openly being projected as anti Bangladesh maneuver, Bangladesh going to China will not be a surprise.
Indian foreign policy is severely limited due to meager resources that India has compared to the deep pockets of China.
With the economy in dire stress Indian hands are pretty much tied and China is utilising its economic power to the hilt.
Economy and a government that seems to have no direction, has caused immense harm and today New Delhi is isolated and sidelined.