Isn’t there any likelihood of Myanmar being won over by China and exploited in the larger nation’s self-serving schemes?
The true value of the “omnidirectional diplomacy” of Myanmar’s de facto supreme leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s state counsellor and foreign minister, will be put to the test.
Suu Kyi held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, and the two leaders confirmed they would strengthen bilateral relations. During the talks, Xi expressed China’s willingness to extend support to Myanmar in such areas as energy and finance, while Suu Kyi responded by saying, “Myanmar is ready to enhance close high-level exchanges” between the two countries.
In an effort to rid itself of a foreign policy that staunchly sided with China, Myanmar’s previous administration of President Thein Sein moved closer to the United States. China apparently is trying to rehabilitate its relations with Myanmar.
The Xi administration is promoting its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a plan to establish a huge economic zone linking Asia and Europe with new Silk Roads via land and sea routes.
Myanmar, which has a coastline on the Indian Ocean, is essential for China to put its scheme into reality.
Suu Kyi, who is racing to realise national reconciliation, attaches the highest priority to working out peace accords with all of the ethnic minority armed groups in Myanmar. China, which has a border of more than 2,000 kilometres with Myanmar, is believed to have influence with some armed groups.
It is possible that Suu Kyi decided to make her visit after taking office as foreign minister to China ahead of such countries as Japan, the United States and European nations, in an effort to win the cooperation from China in her peacemaking efforts, by showing that Myanmar attaches importance to China. Xi, for his part, promptly expressed China’s willingness to assume a constructive role.
A touchstone for gauging how relations can be improved is the response of both countries to a hydropower dam project in northern Myanmar, the contract for which was signed by the two countries when Myanmar was under military rule.
As local opposition to the project grew because it was designed to supply 90 per cent of its electricity to China and concern over environmental destruction spread within the country, the previous administration suspended the project five years ago.
China has pressed Myanmar to restart the project, and Suu Kyi spoke about her intention to review it by saying her new government “is willing to look for a solution that suits both sides’ interests.”
She apparently intends to use the country’s decision on whether to restart the project as a bargaining chip in negotiations with China.
Suu Kyi has emphasised that Myanmar “will build better relations with all other countries.”
But her diplomatic skills are untested.
Could Myanmar’s quick rapprochement with China benefit Beijing in its maneuvering to drive a wedge in the Asean? By reducing pressure from Asean, China is attempting to expand its effective control over the South China Sea.
Suu Kyi must not forget that in order to maintain regional stability, it is important to continue cooperating with countries concerned, including Japan and the United States.
The previous administration introduced investments from Japan, the United States and European countries and promoted the country’s economic reforms. If these policies are not closely followed up, the country’s economic development could suffer.
The Japan News is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.