Foreign Policy Magazine published an article titled, ‘Why Myanmar must reset its relationship with China’.
(The following is an abridged version of the article that was translated into Chinese and published by Global Times.)
Currently, Myanmar is experiencing its most important political change in more than half a century. Over the past few years, international media focused on liberalization of Myanmar and its opening up to the West. In contrast, the relationship between Myanmar and China received less attention.
Now, China’s emergence is transforming the world and nowhere will this impact be felt more strongly than in Myanmar.
The new Myanmar government faces two major tasks: developing the economy and bringing an end to the civil war that has lasted for 70 years. China plays an important role in both these two areas. China is Myanmar’s most important trading partner and has a tremendous influence on Myanmar’s Northern border which makes it a crucial player in any peace process.
Now is the right time for Myanmar to reset it’s relationship with its giant neighbour. The new relationship could take many forms, but should include 3 important components.
First, Myanmar should take the initiative in making its own infrastructure development plan based on revitalizing its economy and invite and encourage China to play an important role. Secondly, Myanmar’s leaders must recognize that development cannot come at the cost of the peace process. Third, Myanmar’s peace process should be an arena for global cooperation rather than unnecessary competition. China should be allowed to participate but perhaps through a new mechanism linked to the United Nations.
There are things that China wants from Myanmar. The economic growth of China’s Yunnan province depends on Myanmar as an important consumer market. Recently completed oil and gas pipelines and hydro-power projects in Myanmar are essential to satisfy the energy needs of China’s south-west.
Myanmar position as the land bridge to India and the Indian Ocean is also very important and is a lynchpin in China’s “One Belt-One Road” initiative.
Finally, Myanmar occupies an important position in the increasingly fierce global competition between China and the United States. China is happy to see a peaceful Myanmar opening up and engaging with the West as long as it does not lead to even a shadow of a Western military presence on the 1300 mile long border between the two countries.
Strong China-Myanmar ties are in the interest of everyone, including the United States. It is the best time for both Myanmar and Chinese leaders to recognise the need for a reset and make it happen.