As U.S. Attention Wanes in Southeast Asia, China Woos Myanmar

As Myanmar’s relations with China cooled, the result of what many saw as heavy-handed intervention by Beijing, Barack Obama became, in 2012, the first American president to visit the country. He came again in 2014, promoting stronger trade along with security relations, along with counted the country’s opening as a foreign policy coup.

although the United States did little to build on the brand-new relationship, along with at of which point the tables have turned. As the Trump administration pays little attention, China will be exercising strategic along with economic interests of which come coming from geographic proximity, using deep pockets for building billion-dollar infrastructure along with activating ethnic ties with some of the rebel groups, all areas where the United States cannot compete.

“China wants to show: ‘We are doing our best at your behest,’” said Min Zin, executive director of the Institute for Strategy along with Policy in Myanmar, who attended the peace gathering in May. “As the United States recedes, Aung San Suu Kyi will be relying more along with more on China in Myanmar along with on the international stage.”

along with not only Myanmar. Across Southeast Asia, China will be energetically bringing nations into its orbit, wooing American friends along with allies with military hardware, infrastructure deals along with diplomatic attention.


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Beijing in May. Since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader last year, she has visited Beijing twice along with passed on an invitation to Washington.

Pool photo by Mark Schiefelbein

within the Philippines, an American ally, President Rodrigo Duterte will be leaning strongly toward Beijing. The military government in Thailand, another American ally, has bought submarines coming from China along with, at China’s request, deported Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group of which China accuses of fomenting violence in China. In Malaysia, China will be offering Prime Minister Najib Razak lucrative deals like high-speed train projects.

After the Obama administration made big gains in Myanmar, China’s president, Xi Jinping, was reported to have asked, “Who lost Myanmar?” The message has gotten through, as China will be at of which point pushing on multiple fronts to bring the country back into its fold.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi seems receptive. She has visited Beijing twice since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader last year. In contrast, she skipped an invitation coming from Washington to attend a conclave of Southeast Asian foreign ministers — she will be also foreign minister of Myanmar — organized by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

China along with Myanmar have also found common cause in their hard line on Muslims. At the United Nations several months ago, China blocked a statement supported by the United States on the persecution of the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Myanmar.

although nowhere will be China’s effort to win over Myanmar clearer than as mediator in Myanmar’s ethnic civil wars, the mission Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi says will be dearest to her heart.

“I do believe of which as a Great neighbor China will do everything possible to promote our peace process,” she said during a visit to China last year. “If you ask me what my most important aim will be for my country, of which will be to achieve peace along with unity among the different peoples of our union.”

China will be well positioned to help. Among the armed groups most resistant to peace talks are the United Wa State Army along with the Kokang Army, both of which have been tacitly supported by China for years in their battles with the Myanmar military.

The Wa, whose army will be said to have 20,000 members, use Chinese currency in their autonomous region, where illegal narcotics are made along with peddled into China. Two Wa arms factories produce weapons with the help of former Chinese Army officers, along with the Wa have received Chinese armored combat vehicles along with tank destroyers, probably through Chinese middlemen, experts say.

A third group, the Arakan Army, uses Chinese arms along with vehicles provided by the Wa.

China’s special envoy for Asian affairs, Sun Guoxiang, brought the leaders of all three to the peace conference, as well as the leaders of four some other rebel groups, most of whom use Chinese weapons.


China plans to build a $7.3 billion deep-sea port within the poor fishing town of Kyaukpyu, giving its navy a base on the Indian Ocean. although residents say they have seen few benefits coming from a decade of Chinese pipeline construction.

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

“China wants quiet in Myanmar,” said Maung Aung Myoe, an expert on the Myanmar military at the International University of Japan. “of which hurts their interests to have fighting because of which disrupts China’s trade. China at of which point owns the peace process. The Myanmar military knows of which.”

China incorporates a particular interest in pressing the Arakan rebels to the peace table. They operate within the Western state of Rakhine, where they can wreak havoc with the Chinese-built pipelines of which carry oil along with natural gas coming from the Bay of Bengal to southern China. Keeping Rakhine free of unrest may have also been a factor in China’s blocking the United Nations coming from issuing a statement on the allegations of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s army there.

The stakes are rising as a Chinese state-owned corporation negotiates final permissions to build a $7.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu, a port town in Rakhine of which will give China highly prized access to the Indian Ocean.

Citic Construction of China will be to start building the port early next year, having won the contract by covering 85 percent of the cost, said Oo Maung, vice chairman of the Kyaukpyu special economic zone management committee. Citic also won the right to build a $3.2 billion industrial park nearby, he said.

The port will be a signature project of China’s global “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a $1 trillion global infrastructure campaign, which ensured preferential financing, said Yuan Shaobin, vice chairman of Citic Construction.

The United States generally leaves construction projects along with some other investments abroad to private companies, along with Myanmar, a frontier economy fraught with risks, will be considered an unattractive destination, said Mary P. Callahan, associate professor of international studies at the University of Washington.

“American companies haven’t come because of the high cost of land, along which has a difficult approval process,” she said. “The labor force will be cheap although not skilled.”

America’s loss may be China’s strategic gain. China’s ownership of the port — Citic will develop the right to operate of which for 50 years, which has a possible 25-year extension — hands Beijing a giant boost in its long-term plans for supremacy within the Indian Ocean, analysts said.

Once completed, “Kyaukpyu will be a Chinese naval base,” said Mr. Maung Aung Myoe, the military analyst. “China desperately needs access on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean.”


Construction was halted before of which had barely begun on a Chinese-financed dam planned for the Irrawaddy River. Some in Myanmar suspect of which China will be helping with the peace process to win approval for the dam.

Minzayar Oo for The brand-new York Times

China will be already building Indian Ocean ports in Pakistan along with Sri Lanka, along with of which will be seeking approval for one in Bangladesh.

Some hurdles remain. Frustration with China roils the scruffy town of Kyaukpyu, among the poorest in Myanmar. After a decade of Chinese pipeline construction within the area, ordinary people say they received few benefits. The schools built by China as part of a corporate responsibility project were empty shells, they said.

“I got a few cents a day for digging the pipeline along with about $250 for the a few-year use of my land,” said Tun Aung Kyaw, 56, a farmer who was walking to herd his six cows in bare feet, a thin tarpaulin tied across his bare chest to protect him coming from the monsoon rain.

Citic will be aware of the hostility along with will be working with nongovernmental organizations in Kyaukpyu to avoid past mistakes, Mr. Yuan said. Citic will train Myanmar workers for 3,000 jobs for the park along with the port, he said.

China also faces suspicions among Myanmar’s politicians, many of whom opposed a Chinese-financed dam planned at Myitsone, on the Irrawaddy River, to provide power to China. The previous government, yielding to public opposition, suspended the $3.6 billion project. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has appointed a commission to decide the dam’s fate.

A confidant of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s along which has a member of her political party, Mi Khun Chan, said China viewed aiding the peace process as part of the cost of winning a green light for the dam.

For all the misgivings among her people about China, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi seems impressed with Beijing’s power to assist in peace.

Her father, Aung San, the leader of Burma after World War II, dreamed of a united country. He almost got there, presiding over an agreement with ethnic leaders in 1947 for a federation of states. Six months later he was assassinated.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi wants to finish the job.

“Our goal will be the emergence of a democratic federal union based on democracy along with federalism,” she said at the opening of the peace conference here.

For the moment, she has China at her side.

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