China’s Future Role in Burma
By AUNG ZAW Friday, December 2, 2011


With the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Naypyidaw, China’s ministry of foreign affairs expressed support for the renewed Burma-US relationship. Below the surface, however, there is growing concern in Beijing about Burma’s outreach to the US.

Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi both gave public assurances that Burma would maintain good relations with China, but given the direction the winds are blowing in the Asia-Pacific region, those assurances may not be sufficient to soothe the giant dragon to Naypyidaw’s north.

Since Burma achieved its independence in 1948, its relationship with China has seen many ups and downs.

In the early 1950s, the two countries agreed to abide by the five principles for peaceful coexistence in international relations: Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; Mutual non-aggression; Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs; Equality and mutual benefit; and Peaceful co-existence.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

However, in the 1960s, China called Burmese dictator Ne Win a “fascist” and heavily backed the efforts of communist insurgents to topple his regime, which ultimately failed, and Burma experienced anti-Chinese riots in 1967. After the death of Chairman Mao, Beijing slowly stopped supporting the communists and improved relations with Ne Win’s socialist government, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that it began to forge the politically and economically influential relationship with Burma’s leaders that it enjoys today.

In 1988, when a new military regime took power in Burma and subsequently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators, threw Suu Kyi in prison and ignored the results of the 1990 election, Western governments dropped almost all support for Burma and slapped sanctions on the junta. China then stepped in and filled the void by supplying military hardware, aid, loans, economic opportunities and foreign diplomatic cover for Burma.

In return, the Burmese generals gave China sweetheart deals on business opportunities inside of Burma, particularly with respect to the country’s natural resources.

Burma also became a geographically important and mostly reliable ally for China, with the Burmese leaders even sharing open sympathy for Beijing during its crackdown on dissidents in Tiananmen Square. This type of mutual support led to the cementing of what the Burmese call a paukphaw relationship, meaning “brotherhood,” with state visits by national leaders occurring frequently.

But to ordinary Burmese people, most of whom had almost no personal contact with the Chinese, the paukphaw friendship meant nothing. In fact, they were repulsed by China’s support for the brutal regime that dictatorially ruled their country, they saw that China did little to help improve the lives of Burma’s ordinary citizens or support the efforts of the pro-democracy opposition, and they became extremely concerned about the fact that their country was becoming a virtual client-state of China.

As a result, anti-Chinese sentiment grew as most Burmese believed that China’s support for Burma was intended only to preserve the brutal regime so that it could exploit their country’s natural resources and gain strategic access to the Indian Ocean.

In contrast to China, the US and other Western governments criticized and isolated the Burmese junta, both politically and economically, and supported the efforts of the Burmese people over the last two decades in their struggle for human rights and democracy.

But while the West’s efforts to help bring democracy and human rights to Burma were welcomed and appreciated by the country’s oppressed population, the isolation and sanctions it imposed had the ironic side-effect of pushing the junta generals further into the waiting arms of Beijing.

 China, however, may have overplayed its hand by attempting to dominate Burma’s economy and natural resources, as well as overestimated the loyalty of the Burmese generals it supported for over twenty years.

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chris Jericho Wrote:
speaking of burma filled with bounty of the nature. correct me if I'm wrong. where are those mineral resources located? Aren't most of them in the ethnic minorities area? Is that why the government dominated by the burman majority won't think twice to wage wars to control those territories. it is not about national integrity or solidarity or whatever the crap is. it is about resource theft.

If I were the kachin leader, I would officially secede from the union of thugs, (sorry, burma) and resume the work on myit sone dam. and sell the electricity to india or china whoever the highest bidder is--even to the burman if they can afford it.

chris Jericho Wrote:
@ Moe Aung - are you saying that favoritism and nepotism do not exist in the Western societies? If you do, how naive are you? Again not that I am for such things.

Want to see how a country can prosper if not under sanctions? Look at the economies of east asian coutries, given that the countries are ruled by leaders with some sort of vision. Also, how often do sanctions bring positive changes in Asian politics. Usually people support economic sanction when they themselves don't have to live under it.

Go around and ask any burmese expat why they are living abraod. Is it because there is next to no employment opportunities or because there is no democracy in burma? Ideology is a beautiful thing, but it does not put food on the table.

chris Jericho Wrote:
@ Moe Aung- First of all, I am not a supporter of a burmese regime under any cloak. I loath them.

At the same time, I am completely against seeing Westerners as gods of saviors and carbon-copying their system. Hence, I use the example of the Philippines.

If the government is serious about reforms, they have to set their priorities straight. It's been proven times and again that setting economy of a country in high gear before letting the political system loose brings about the best results. Look at the S. Korea and Taiwan, Back in the 70's when these two countries decided to open up, how democratic were their societies. You seem to be a learned person. So, go back and read up the industrial revolutions of the U.S and the U.K. How democratic were their societies back then?

A poor country like Burma must be very careful to set her priorities.

Back to the military governments who have running Burma since time immemorial, they can all go to hell for all I care.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Interesting to see chris jericho contradicts himself in the same breath blaming the sanctions as the culprit for all the suffering, typical of certain business oriented groups, and then rejecting that democratic reforms supported by the West most likely also lifting the sanctions (which the regime badly wanted for their own ruling class interests - no change there) as quid pro quo cannot automatically ensure prosperity.

So what he's after seems to be lifting the sanctions with really no need for democratic reforms since Singapore is doing very well, thank you.

Well, it ain't gonna happen, chris.
Perhaps refreshing your memory of the JADE Act would help:

Whoever happens to be in power on either side of the border, Burma and China need to remain on good terms in trade and diplomacy, but protecting their own borders and sovereignty at all times. The same goes between them and the US. That's the reality.

deadeagle Wrote:
Wake up, those Myanmarese who think USA can donate billions of US$ for Myanmar, better wake up, USA is a bankrupted nation who only cause trouble (Iraq n Afghan....etc)

deadeagle Wrote:
Without China, Myanmar economy will be much, much worst, as the West economic sanction crippled the economy. If Myanmar want to be slave of USA, go ahead !

deadeagle Wrote:
Surely China had help Myanmar more than USA since 1950, what had the demon USA help for Myanmar in the past 60 years??
USA is nothing but the biggest trouble maker of the modern world !!

To chris jericho(3) Wrote:
And it is not as if the sanctions had been applied universally on Burma. Throughout the dark ages under the military rule, countries like China, Singapore, Thailand, India and many other countries have led the FDI in Burma. Yet, why did the people of Burma not benefit from those investments? Why has Burma not climbed up the world's annual development or health index from one rank above Somalia or Afghanistan? Need I say out the obvious, gentleman? Or is it still due to US-backed sanctions? If only the junta and wolves in sheep's clothing did not mismanage or self-enrich, a country as naturally rich as Burma would have been very much on par with any other ASEAN countries if not better. Simply, all those problems in Burma are nothing else but man-made by the thugs who have been systematically pillaging the whole country with the help of China and co.

To chris jericho(2) Wrote:
Do u notice the oft-excuse the Burmese gov’t gives all the time that "Burma is poor and still a developing country" whenever it doesn't want to implement some necessary reform or policy that will benefit the country? The (ex)-Generals will always give the same lame excuse whenever they are confronted with the social woes instead of rectifying their policies which have blighted the country for decades. All these time, spending on military keeps skyrocketing while that on education, infrastructure and healthcare has been abysmal.

If you don't know already, Burma is endowed with huge amount of natural resources and blessed with many great geographical features. The fact is that with or without sanctions, Burma could have and should have been more than able to feed her people and provide a comfortable livelihood to every single person on her land. Yet, all the best potentials nature can provide to all the Burmese have been abused and exploited by a handful of military men and their cronies!

To chris jericho (1) Wrote:
"""The effect of US-backed sanctions over the past three decades -- infant deaths, malnourished children and lost decades for a whole generation..."""????

Wow! That is patently ludicrous. If that reasoning holds true, despite the sanctions, do you care to explain why the top echelon of the junta and its cronies get filthily richer and richer while the rest of the populace has become destitute? Despite the sanctions, many of the offsprings of who's who in Burma can afford an overseas tertiary education while the entire generation of ordinary students lost their future?

Everyone who has lived through the downtrodden plebeian life in Burma (that includes me) understand that no one else but the military alone is responsible for the current sorry state of record-breaking and world-class poverty which fares slightly better than a country like Somalia!!!

Mualcin Wrote:
China has no role in our life. Burma has been dumping ground for China for too long. China destroys our beautiful land. Sucks our blood and treats us like slaves on our own land. No more communist China, please.

Nyi Nyi Wrote:
The people will always remember China supported Than Shwe who killed tens of thousands of people and at the same time raped the country of natural resources without paying any attention to the interest of the people. These facts will never go away and will always remind us when dealing with China in the future. The communist China is not a friend for Burmese people, just a business partner.

Aung Aung Wrote:
Paukphaw supported BCP (Yesterday), is assisting UWSA (Today) and what will be doing (Tomorrow)? It should be answered by think-tankers.

Remember: around 1961 Burma has been forced (yes or no?) to give-up three pieces of land. They are Hpimaw, Gawlum and Kangfang.

A food-for-thought: Today, the whole world realized a lot of poor countries are in trouble, especially those tyrany and poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Why N-Korea is still in such a bad shape, despite they are intelegent enough to make nuclear bomb? Why Burma is downgraded to LDC from Asia Rice-bowl? And who is the match-maker that brings them together? Why?

By now, it is clear enough to see who is friend and who is foe. Instead of pointing at neighbors for their misconducts, beloved generals and cronies should review the past workdone and make changes where appropriate, before too late.

Time and tide wait for no bully!

tocharian Wrote:
The best future role China can play in Burma is to leave Burma alone. Stop flooding the country with Yuan and Y-chromosomes and stop bullying and bribing the generals (the top 1%). Enough is enough.
It's better to be poor and free than become Chinese slaves. There is something called the dignity and sanctity of the human spirit and the natural environment. Chinese would have no idea what I am talking about. All they understand is money and greed.

Norman Hla Wrote:
All know the bama military thugs tricks( see ethnic issue). China is aware of all betrays( see after Korean war with Russian help&North Vietnam’s invasion to Laos and Cambodia). Although communist rule , the nationalism in China is not less than Burmese(see Sino-Japanese sea crash).Any instability in Burma will threat to than shwe, not to China. China considered downgrading of Myistones’ size before than sein’s announcement of cessation. Chinese in Burma is low profile , knowing of than shwe’s brutality and bama-nization. Rising China is not from foreign influence and help. Today rich China,( Burmese neighbor) is not yesterday poor China. Well calculated experienced China is not unbridled influence on Burma(disagree with Aung Zaw). If Ming Ko Naing(once favored China) were DASSK’s deputy, China might trust DASSK. Pointing finger or inviting finger to other countries is useless.

chris jericho Wrote:
Aung Zaw - You've forgotten to mention the effect of US-backed sanctions over the past three decades -- infant deaths, malnourished children and lost decades for a whole generation. the only way for burmese youth to find employment was to leave the country. You also left the biggest variable out of your equation. Obama's engagement has less to do with burma's democratic reforms, yet more to do with desperation (of containment) getting china to abide by 'international' rules.
you are putting the horse in front of the cart in saying that western supports and democratic reforms automatically ensure prosperity. look at the fully democratic the phillipines and semi-autocratic singapore. See the difference?

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