While the world rallies to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing undermines U.S. economic sanctions by supporting the Burmese military junta.
In February 2021, the Burmese military overthrew the democratically-elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by the Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. After more than five decades of war and repression, the people of Burma (also known as Myanmar) had finally had enough, taking up arms against the junta.
The United Nations has identified the country as being in a state of civil war as Burmese civilians have joined forces with the various ethnic armies to fight the military government.
CCP Influence in Burma
China is Burma’s largest source of investment and largest trading partner. Under the NLD government, Burma was hedging its China relationship, accepting some investment and aid while curtailing the CCP’s influence in the country.
This hedging has collapsed under the military government as China’s foothold expands. The CCP had seemed to take a “wait-and-see” approach for most of 2021 to determine whether the National Unity Government or the junta would win. Now it appears the junta is here to stay.
Beijing has restarted the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is a portion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”) that runs from China’s Yunnan Province to Burma’s Kyaukphyu town. The restoration of this initiative would grant the Chinese military access to the Indian Ocean.
On Dec. 22, 2021, Burma’s military regime announced that it would be using the Chinese yuan for border trade with China beginning in 2022. This move was taken because Burma is suffering a shortage of foreign currency and U.S. dollars, and it serves the CCP’s goal of internationalizing the yuan.
In March, the CCP and the junta signed a deal for a new liquid natural gas (LNG) plant in Burma. This increases Burma’s economic dependence on China while helping China avoid bringing LNG through the Strait of Malacca, which is patrolled by the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
The CCP is not only supporting the junta economically, but also militarily. While the United States and its allies have called on other countries to stop selling weapons to the junta, the U.N. Human Rights Council determined that the Burmese military junta is buying arms from Russia and China.
On June 18, 2021, the U.N. General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution, calling for U.N. members to halt the flow of weapons to Burma. A binding version of this resolution was blocked by both China and Russia. In December 2021, the junta became the first regime in Southeast Asia to receive a Chinese submarine.
On April 1, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi received the Burmese junta’s Wunna Maung Lwin in China. Chinese state-run media Xinhua later reported that Wang had met with his “counterpart,” a signal that the CCP now officially recognizes the military junta as the official government of Burma.
As a result of the meeting, the CCP granted the Burmese military government $100 million in economic aid and a new consulate in China. The CCP also vowed to help the junta oppose sanctions. Additional plans were made to jointly advance the BRI and have Burma host the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation forum, which includes China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“We just ask China to not support the terrorist junta and not legitimize them,” Zin Mar Aung, minister of foreign affairs of Burma’s National Unity Government (NUG) in exile, told reporters on March 15.
The United States and other Western nations have brought sanctions against the Burmese military junta, including freezing government assets held in the United States. However, the sanctions are being undermined because Singapore and China refuse to freeze assets or halt further investment in the country.
On March 20, the Biden administration officially identified the military junta’s killing of Rohingya Muslims as a genocide.
Last December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) asking them to help end the violence committed by the military in Burma.
On Aug. 5, 2021, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Burma’s government in exile, the National Unity Government (NUG), about how to return Burma to the path of democracy.
US Must Counter CCP Influence in Burma
The United States has been heavily distracted by the Ukraine crisis. And while Ukraine is important, if the United States does not address the Burma situation, the CCP will co-opt the country economically and politically.
By gaining access to the Indian Ocean, the CCP will be able to undermine the power of the U.S. Navy and also threaten India. India’s relationship with Russia has been a sticking point in bringing India fully into the American sphere.
As both India and the United States have an interest in opposing the CCP in Burma, this could be a shared goal that helps the two countries strengthen their alliance.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent more than 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Graceffo works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include “Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion” and “A Short Course on the Chinese Economy.”