Tomorrow, Burmese opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to travel to China, in what will be her first visit to the Middle Kingdom. During the course of her stay, the Diplomat reports, Suu Kyi is expected to meet with the two most powerful figures in China: President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. As Rena Pederson illustrates in an essay in the new issue of The American Interest, China has all sorts of reasons to be building a stronger partnership with Myanmar:
- Burma has oil and gas, and China wants to reduce the risk of transporting oil through the Malacca Straits chokehold.
- Burma has vast potential for hydropower resources, thanks to the mighty rivers that flow down from the Himalayas. China wants that electricity to meet its voracious energy needs, and is pursuing some 63 hydropower projects.
- Burma offers a market of more than fifty million people. China currently dominates trade, but the United States wants in on the action.
- Burma is strategically located next to India, the world’s largest democracy and China’s rival for dominance. The United States would be happier if Burma were a more democratic presence in mainland Southeast Asia; China would be happier if Burma did its bidding.
With American companies and diplomats working to rebuild and expand U.S. influence in Myanmar, China has every reason to redouble its own efforts in the country. The Asian Game of Thrones is on, and former Burma is a battlefield.
Both countries, however, may be disappointed. Suu Kyi is a deft stateswoman with a vision for the future of her country: a Myanmar not beholden to America or reduced to a puppet of China. Should she attain the Presidency later this year, she will likely continue current Burmese policy towards the United States and the People’s Republic, working with both, but not falling into either’s orbit, to preserve the independence and status of Myanmar itself.