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Myanmar is a place where China is hedging its bets


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The February coup may have been a disaster for China's interests, and Myanmar's new military rulers (the Tatmadaw) do want more independence from Beijing, but the two countries will always be neighbours.


However, one of those neighbours is substantially larger—and has strategic interests in the smaller country that it will safeguard.
Despite the military coup erasing years of deliberate outreach to the now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD) and destabilising spreading into China's Yunnan province, Beijing has supported the junta while carefully balancing public and private pressure to emerge victorious in Myanmar.

 

China's interests in Myanmar have been strong and expanding for decades.
These goals include maintaining Myanmar's domestic stability, expanding the crucial China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), and preventing Western countries from encircling Myanmar.


To that goal, Beijing developed cordial relations with Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD government.
Myanmar's military chafed over both rising economic dependency on China (which is widely unpopular) and China's support for rebels along the border as connections with the civilian government got stronger.

 

The NLD government and China signed 33 memorandums of agreement to progress the CMEC during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Naypyidaw in 2020.
Western sanctions and condemnation of Myanmar's human rights atrocities against Rohingyas drew Aung San Suu Kyi's party even closer to Beijing.
After the NLD's stunning electoral victory in 2020, relations between China and the NLD appeared to be on the rise.

 

Following the Tatmadaw's takeover on Feb. 1, this trend swung in an unwelcome direction for Beijing, to the point where the military takeover undoubtedly represents a major setback.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was surprised to face stiff and sustained popular resistance and a growing armed rebellion by a diverse and loosely aligned coalition of ethnic armed organisations (EAO), civilian militias, and the National Unity Government (NUG) led by ousted parliamentarians, rather than a smooth assumption of power like the 2014 coup in Thailand.  Armed opposition drove the junta to strain its forces thin, encouraged some defections, and inflicted deaths in guerrilla operations, despite being fragmented and ill-equipped.
The upheaval was unpleasant in Beijing, as it threatened both its long-term interests in Myanmar and signalled the possibility of a catastrophic meltdown and collapse that may flow over into China.

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