Myanmar could reconsider its China policy to reduce Beijing's influence

India’s eastern neighbour Myanmar, close on heels of election results that returned Suu Kyi’s party to power yet again, may rethink its China policy to reduce Beijing’s influence in the country. The government following its reelection has hinted that it may limit its exposure to BRI projects and try to reduce overall influence of China due to rising resentment from the citizens

The civilian government’s attempts to reduce Chinese influence is being backed by the military which still yields considerable influence in Myanmar, ET has reliably gathered. Besides limiting exposure to Chinese funds for mega projects, both Suu Kyi and the military may relook China’s role in the country’s peace process following Beijing’s duplicity, ET has learnt.

The growth of Chinese population in Myanmar’s Shan State which shares border with China’s Yunnan province as well as Chinese dominance in Mandalay have also emerged as headache for Myanmar’s decision makers, according to a person familiar with China’s footprints in Myanmar. However, anti-Chinese sentiments are on rise across Myanmar compelling the Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to closely scrutinise Chinas role in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi is aware of China’s support and influence over armed rebels groups in northern Shan and Rakhine states, Myanmar based sources told ET. Senior generals have not been satisfied with how China has financed the Arakan Army (AA) in northern Rakhine but simultaneously trying to be a peacemaker between the rebel groups and the Myanmar government. AA has also acted against India’s interests in Myanmar by trying to sabotage Kaladan Multi Modal project.

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The growth of Chinese population in the northern Shan State which shares border with China’s Yunnan province as well as Chinese dominance in Mandalay has often been the causeof anger towards China among the Burmese local population in Mandalay and surrounding regions. According to local media reports Burmese intellectuals believe that Chinese territorial expansion in Myanmar “is not new and soon we have to deal with it or else we may open up a new area of external conflict, like that in India’s Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.”

Ahead of polls held earlier this month SuuKyi and many other politicians of her party as well other parties did not want to be seen too close to the China, which speaks about the general perception people in Myanmar have about China, claimed Myanmar based sources.

The Chinese have invested majorly in Myanmar even before the launch of the process of democratisation. Chinese companies have eyed jade and other gemstones in Myanmar. It has been extracting the gas from theRakhineState.

The China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) includes setting up of a high speed railway which will connect all the industrial zones in the country with the Chinese border and the $ 1.3 billion deep sea port in Kyaukphyu in Rakhine state. These are part of the BRI which will give China direct access to the Indian Ocean. Earlier this year Myanmar government has been able to reduce scope of China’s participation in the deep sea port fearing rising debt.

The recent controversy over the Yangon projects and other projects — now suspended $ 3.6 billion Myitsone dam project in the Kachin State, the Letpadaung copper mines in the Salingyitownship in Sagaingregion — can emerge as friction points between Yangon and Beijing..

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