China Using Myanmar Gambit To Penetrate In South Asia

China has been supporting the junta rule in Myanmar through diplomatic and economic means, in order to deepen its influence in South Asia, Myanmar-based Mizzima reported.

According to the report by Sun Lee — a pseudonym for a writer who covers Myanmar and Asian affairs — the ‘Myanmar gambit’ is part of China’s larger plan of penetrating South Asia for security and economic gains.

The nature and scale of China’s links to Myanmar’s ruling establishment have been subject to considerable scrutiny, with some observers noting that Myanmar is a little wary of Chinese influence, but the latter’s penetration is so deep and pervasive that it is difficult for the government to give up the link, Mizzima reported.

Historically, China has been an influential player in Myanmar’s internal affairs since its independence in 1948.

Domestically, China has very good ties with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO), which makes it the ideal mediator between the government and the EAOs.

Mizzima reported citing Myanmar’s Investment and Companies Directorate, that between the coup and February 2023, China invested more than USD 113 million and is the second-largest foreign investor after Singapore in Myanmar. Also, Beijing has never wavered in its support for the junta since its February 1, 2021 coup.

While other countries have condemned the military regime, pulled their investments, and refrained from trading with the nation, China has chosen to step up its engagement with the generals in Naypyidaw.

China’s overt and covert support for the country’s military rulers is also the primary reason for widespread anti-China sentiment in Myanmar.

China has also provided diplomatic support to protect the regime from international condemnation and humanitarian intervention, at a time of international isolation. Beijing has even made concerted efforts to block UN resolutions expressing concern over the military and its actions, and has provided Myanmar with loans, investments, and trade to keep the economy afloat, Mizzima reported.

Significantly, Chinese military equipment has also enabled the generals to quell anti-junta protests and fight insurgencies. Pertinently, many Myanmar locals view the robust and multifaceted Chinese support of the military as being a crucial factor that ensures the longevity of the junta’s rule.

How deeply rooted the Chinese presence is in Myanmar can be understood with the Kyaukphyu Port. The under-construction port on the westernmost tip of Myanmar, adjoining the Bay of Bengal lies in Rakhine State.

But, it happens to be the same state, where India has also invested in assets like Kaladan multi-modal transport corridor.

Mizzima cited recent reports that Chinese activities in the region have intensified in myriad ways. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report revealed cases of trafficking of girls from the states of Kachin and Shan into China, where they are married off to Chinese men.

The report further stated that Myanmar nationals of Chinese descent are buying property in Ann, Maei, Kyaukphyu and Ramree townships, anticipating good price appreciation once the Kyaukphyu SEZ Deep Sea Port Project becomes operational.

Also, China has managed to use the “extant laws” of Myanmar to acquire land in Myanmar

The Chinese nationals have acquired land in Myanmar either through marriage or by getting Myanmar citizenship by bribing the immigration authorities, Mizzima reported.

According to the report, the military regime is suspected of having issued ID cards to Chinese citizens in an effort to influence the forthcoming election. The real estate agents close to the military regime are allegedly threatening locals to sell their land or get it confiscated without any compensation.

Lahiso, the capital of Shan, a trading hub between China and Myanmar, is being developed as a China township by converting farmland into commercial plots. Wealthy Kokang businessmen of Chinese origin are rushing to buy land in Lashio to construct casinos and gambling dens.

The decline in the economy has forced citizens to sell their land to make ends meet rendering the locals to rent out their premises for running gambling activities. Similarly, a cross-border Economic Zone in Chinshwehaw, linking the Shantownship of Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Special Autonomous Zone, to Lincang in Yunnan province is being constructed, Mizzima reported.

However, Laukkai, with its 30 casinos and 50 hotels, has gained a reputation as a violent and crime-ridden frontier town. In recent years, the Chinese government has been embarrassed by a number of overseas Chinese crime syndicates.

For instance, scandals involving Kokang-run casinos eventually triggered an intervention to shut down their casinos in the southern Cambodian town of Sihanoukville.

The most notorious example in Myanmar is the case of Shwe Kokko Yatai New City in Myawaddy township, close to the Thai border. This was the first project in Myanmar that claimed to be associated with the BRI, but it was publicly disavowed by the Chinese government in a public statement saying that “this is a third-country investment and has nothing to do with the Belt and Road Initiative,” according to Mizzima.

Radio Free Asia reported that about 1,400 migrant workers (500 carrying single-use temporary border passes, viz., green cards and 900 carrying border travel permits viz., red book) are entering China through Muse in Shan State despite a recent wage cut by half by the Chinese employers.

Desperate for work amid the current economic downturn, thousands have been hoping to use the TBP scheme to find long-term employment in China, even though it’s only meant for short-term visits.

Since most of the migrant workers are from conflict-ridden villages in Sagaing, Magway, Mandalay regions and Shan state, the move could be part of a joint strategy of otherwise populous China and Myanmar’s ruling military regime to wean local youth away from anti-regime resistance groups, according to Mizzima.

Of far greater significance is a recent report that states that China is exploring likely sites of nuclear technology projects in Sagaing and Mandalay regions after Myanmar’s Ambassador to China sought advanced nuclear technology from China for use in Myanmar’s agriculture, health and energy sectors.

A release by Myanmar’s foreign ministry said the Ambassador, Tin Maung Swe, made the request at the China-ASEAN Forum for Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology in Nanning, China.

This request makes China the second country to be approached by Myanmar regarding nuclear technology. Currently, the military-led government is collaborating with Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom after opening the country’s first nuclear information centre in Yangon early this year.

The various facets of China’s penetration of Myanmar make it clear that Beijing is present in a big way in Myanmar, according to Mizzima.

While its cultivation of the military over the years has given it an edge, the real difference is in the Chinese penetration of the socio-economic landscape. It is this factor which makes the spread of Chinese influence, mostly negative, in Myanmar, an inescapable reality, the report by Sun Lee further stated. (ANI)

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