China strengthens ties with Burmese junta despite international condemnation

Trade and diplomatic relations between Myanmar and China are normalizing in the face of intense national opposition and international condemnation from the military junta that seized power in February.

Beijing has strengthened its relations with Myanmar’s military leaders despite a series of violent attacks on Chinese business interests in the country following the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

Yun Sun, an expert on Myanmar-China relations with the Stimson Center, a US think tank, said Beijing had already made a “fundamental assessment” that Myanmar was entering another extended period of military rule.

“I think the Chinese can see that this military coup is a success and that it is here to stay,” she added.

The resumption of commitments at the state level and economic activity indicates that Myanmar is returning to its traditional economic dependence on China. The country has used its larger neighbor as a buffer against international sanctions and divestment from foreign investors, who have announced their intention to leave the country or pending projects.

Since the coup, 875 people have been killed by the junta and 6,242 arrested, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (Burma), a human rights group. The country’s economy and public services were severely disturbed by mass demonstrations in the three months following the putsch, and have only partially recovered.

The resumption of bilateral trade will fuel widespread suspicion among anti-coup resistance groups that China was prepared to support the new military regime.

The cumulative value of Chinese imports from Myanmar for the first five months of the year was $ 3.38 billion, up from $ 2.43 billion in 2020 and $ 2.56 billion in 2019, before the pandemic coronavirus, according to official Chinese customs data.

Exports to Myanmar for the same period, however, did not recover to the same extent. By the end of May, goods valued at $ 4.28 billion had been shipped to Myanmar, up from $ 4.56 billion and $ 4.79 billion in the previous two years.

As a further sign of strengthening diplomatic relations, Chen Hai, Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar, met with coup leader and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyidaw in June. In a subsequent statement, Chen called Min Aung Hlaing the leader of Myanmar.

China was among the countries that abstained in a vote at the United Nations General Assembly last week, calling on the international community to stop the flow of weapons in Myanmar and release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees.

Beijing had good relations with the government of the ousted leader, who is in detention facing several criminal charges. However, he refrained from criticizing the military, stoking anger among the mass protest movement that arose after the coup.

In addition to being Myanmar’s largest trading partner, China has also strategic investments in infrastructure in the country, including the energy pipelines that give Beijing a vital link to the Indian Ocean.

James Char, a Myanmar expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said many people in Myanmar still blame the Chinese government and business interests for their complicity in supporting the military’s decades of rule before. the transition to democracy.

“The Chinese themselves are very clear on [public sentiment in Myanmar]”said Char.

Attacks on companies linked to China following the coup culminated in an explosion at a China-backed textile factory west of Yangon on June 11, according to reports from local Myanmar media, as well as news services controlled by the Chinese junta and state media.

Beijing’s mistrust of inflaming Burmese protesters would likely slow down Chinese direct investment and the resumption of larger-scale developments planned under President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative, analysts said.

Additional reporting by Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing

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