China’s benefit from Myanmar’s military rule
Following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, many countries around the world, especially the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, have condemned it as a tragic event. The United States has threatened to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar. These countries and organizations have called for the immediate release of the arrested leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and a speedy return to democratic rule. But China's role in the Myanmar uprising is still silent.
During the coup in Myanmar, China reacted mildly for a while, saying it was keeping an eye on Myanmar. They are trying to understand the situation in the country. At the same time, Beijing called on all parties in Myanmar to resolve their differences in the light of the constitution and the legal framework in order to maintain political and social stability in the country.
In this situation, various analyzes are going on about which country will be benefitted more in the regional geopolitics in the military coup. It is now becoming clearer to many that China will be the biggest beneficiary of Myanmar's growing democracy and the resumption of military rule. Myanmar's government became increasingly dependent on China when Western nations imposed economic sanctions on the country after nearly 50 years of military rule.
This time the situation is almost the same. The United States and Western nations are once again going to impose sanctions on Myanmar. But it does not appear to have upset Myanmar's military government because superpowers like China and Russia are by their side. China has huge public-private investment in Myanmar. China is implementing many big projects in the country, including building infrastructure. Due to these reasons, China's strong relationship with Myanmar has been established for a long time. On the other hand, Myanmar's military has long-standing ties with Russia. Myanmar bought arms from Russia. A few days before the military coup, Russia's defense minister arrived in Myanmar to sign an arms deal. The military gave him a red carpet reception in the capital, Naypyidaw.
Myanmar's military has chosen to build closer ties with Russia in order to overcome its over-reliance on China. That's why China has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Britain's military coup. Although Myanmar and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi have faced widespread condemnation and criticism in the West over the Rohingya persecution and genocide in 2016 and 2017, China and Russia have backed Myanmar.
China has said in its foreign policy strategy to support the development of democracy around the world. As part of this strategy, Aung San Suu Kyi's party National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election in 2015, and China established good relations with Suu Kyi's government. Beijing signed various agreements to build and invest in infrastructure in Myanmar. Because they know that it will be easier for them to deal with the Suu Kyi government than with the military rulers. Chinese investors and traders have also taken that opportunity.
In May 2017, Aung San Suu Kyi visited Beijing to attend a conference on international cooperation, where she joined Myanmar on China's regional connectivity network, the Belt and Road Initiative. She signed an agreement on the development of their constructions with the way of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar in January last year to strengthen ties with Suu Kyi's government.
Among the major projects on the table in Myanmar before the military coup, were the construction of a rail network between the Chinese border town of Ruili and the Myanmar town of Mandalay. Another major project is the construction of a deep-sea port at Kimpio in the Bay of Bengal with Chinese funding. The site is already serving as a terminal for the oil and gas pipeline. From here, the pipeline runs through Myanmar to the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
Now, after the change of government in the country, China is also supporting the military rulers. However, China does not want its relations with the strategically important country Myanmar to deteriorate in the slightest. This is because China can easily reach the Indian Ocean through the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative. On the other hand, oil shipments from the Middle East will soon reach China by Myanmar via this same route.
Myanmar's constitution, drafted by the military in 2008, leaves much of the power in the hands of the military, including the three most important ministries of defense, interior and border affairs. The constitution states that the army will appoint ministers in three ministries. There will be no role for civilian government. As such, the army appoints current or former army officers in three ministries. As a result, any agreement on the purchase of arms is made by the military. Following this, the Myanmar army has agreed to buy sophisticated weapons from Russia.
The civilian government has no chance to reduce the power of the army. Because, even if it gets a huge majority in the elections, it will not be possible for any civilian government to pass a bill to amend the constitution. The 2008 constitution states that a bill to amend the constitution of Parliament would require the support of 75% of the members, which is never possible. This is because the constitution allocates 25% of the total seats in parliament to army officers.
The United Solidarity and Development Party (UPDS), a party backed by the army, also won some seats. As a result, it will not be possible for any democratic political party to reduce the power of the army by amending the constitution.
That is why the military will always play a strong role in Myanmar's politics, which is a great relief for China. Because every time the military rule comes to Myanmar, the western world will impose economic sanctions on the country. Then China will be Myanmar's main source of investment and trade. Although China is arming a number of rebel groups in Myanmar, the military is angry at China for saying nothing.
Under the pressure of the situation, they are turning to China and China is taking full advantage of that. China will trade with whoever is in power in Myanmar. Of course, having a democratic government is a problem for China. Because then the western countries will come forward in trade and investment in China. Then China will have to compete with them. But every time the military regime comes, the Western world will move away from Myanmar and China will be the only faithful and reliable friend of the country, opening up unfettered opportunities for trade and investment.
Md Tareq Hasan is a student of Rajshahi University