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Sino- Myanmar Pauk-Phaw Relationship under Strain?
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Dr S Chandrasekharan | Date:09 Sep , 2020 0 Comments

Source: Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, Government of Myanmar

It looks that of late, the much talked about Pauk-Phaw  relationship between Myanmar and China is under strain.  This Pauk-Phaw that means fraternal relationship was hailed as the centre piece of the relationship by no one less than Xi Jinping during his visit to Myanmar recently  in January this year. 
Dealing with a giant neighbour who is a bully is not an easy task, as we find it in India too.  Some analysts in Myanmar have said that “caution” is the guiding principle in Myanmar’s relationship with China.  Others have called it as a “forced Marriage” and  a “hated one”  between the two in describing the relationship.
In the recent fourth meeting of the 21st Panglong Meeting at Napyitaw that started on the 19th of this month, the Chinese had totally ignored it. Media reports do not indicate the presence of the chief Chinese Interlocutor Sun Guoxiang who normally attends these sessions as an Observer.  It may be recalled that in the  Panglong meeting 2017, the Chinese interlocutor interceded on behalf of the seven party alliance who had not signed the National Cease-fire Agreement. 
Sun Guoxiang personally met both the Army Chief and State Councillor Suu Kyi to allow them to attend the conference.  A Plane that had been kept ready in Kunming was used to ferry the leaders of the Armed Ethnic Insurgent Outfits in time to attend the inaugural ceremony. 
Both the Army Chief and Suu Kyi individually met the leaders on the insistence of the Chinese ( they do not recognise the seven party alliance) during the course of the main  meeting privately and separately.
This time, a week before the Conference, the FPNCC (Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee) led by the United Wa declared that they will not be attending the 4th round of the Conference as they felt sorry that the one the constituents of the Party, the Arakan Army had not been invited.  This declaration may have been made with or without the acquiescence of the Chinese or their interlocutor Sun Guoxiang. 
The Chinese took no interest in persuading the seven party alliance to attend the meeting ( they did not attend)  and perhaps to prove a point that the peace process cannot move forward without China’s support.  
The Panglong Meeting as expected was a lacklustre affair with only the unimportant ethnic insurgent outfits, ten of them who had signed the National Cease-fire Agreement in attendance.  The more important and well-armed ones the strongly armed and supported by the Chinese like the Wa, the KIA, the TNLA and MNDAA boycotted the meeting.  The Arakan Army was not invited and the question of their attendance did not arise.  I had separately in this site questioned the wisdom of both the Myanmar Government and the Army in not inviting the AA for the current conference.
We had in the past indicated that the Army Chief as well as other Army Officers have raised the issue of the ethnic outfits having sophisticated weapons of Chinese origin.  The Army Chief openly gave vent to his feeling when he attended the 75 th Anniversary of the World War II in Moscow this year.  The Army had intercepted and publicised the recovery of  a huge cache of arms that included sophisticated ones like shoulder-fired surface to air missile. The Army Chief had also personally raised the issue when he called on President Xi Jinping.  Xi Jinping feigned ignorance and said that he would look into it.  
The point we are making is that Myanmar- Army has made no bones about the recovery of the Chinese arms and has gone public, much to the embarrassment of the Chinese!
Myanmar media has also come out with some other details that gives the impression that the country is at last taking some “baby steps” to stand up to the Chinese.  These include
1.  The Myitsone dam project on which more than a billion dollars has been spent is still in cold storage.  With total opposition from the locals, no political party would dare to revive the project just to please the Chinese.
2.  There has been no forward movement in the much touted Rail Project between Muse on the Chinese border with Mandalay.  It may be recalled that the CMEC main hub is Mandalay from where one goes to the Capital and the other to the stragetically important Kyaukphyu  Deep Sea port.
3.  With confrontation with the West as well as other South East Asia Nations barring Laos and Kampuchea and India, China’s move for an outlet to the Indian Ocean direct and not through the narrow Malacca Straits has become critical and urgent.  While China offered to build the Kyauk phyu Port at a huge cost of 7.2 billion Dollars with loans from private Chinese Banks, the Myanmar Representative U Set  Aung – the Deputy Minister of Planning and also Chairman of the Kyaukphyu Port reduced the size and cost of the project to just 1.3 Billion Dollars- a sum manageable by the Myanmar side.
4.  Myanmar has slowly but steadily diversified its arms purchase – From Russia, India, Israel, Ukraine and several other countries. It should be noted that Myanmar chose to buy submarine of Russian origin from India rather than the substandard ones offered by China unlike Bangladesh.
In an earlier article in the same site I had mentioned how Myanmar is in the tight grip of China thanks to the misguided policies of the Western countries and even international Agencies. Internally too there appears to be no unity between the Civilian Government and the Army authorities
In a democracy the Army is there to aid the  civil power.  In Myanmar, it is very strange to see the Army taking independent initiatives relating to the elections.  On 15th of August, the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing met the Representatives of 34 of the political parties that included some ethnic parties and discussed with them on how to conduct the elections in a free and fair manner.  The Chief assured them that he was willing to do whatever was necessary when some of the parties raised concerns about the November Elections and added that they could count on his help if the voting turned out to be unfair.    Was he threatening a coup if things do not go the way the Army wants?
The Army Chief even advised the political parties to select candidates with “good ability” that would make them good members of the Parliament. He also told them of the Army’s role in national politics and pointed out the need for freeing the county from “foreign influence.”
In another instance, in the fourth Panglong Conference recently held, the Army Chief openly accused the Party in power the NLD led By Suu Kyi that it is trying to act as a mediator as if the fight is between the Army and the Armed Ethnic Outfits.
What is important is that even in the little steps Myanmar- would like to take in standing up to China, it needs internal stability for which both the Army and the Civilian Government should  be working together. 
Unfortunately this is not happening.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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