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Asia's Game of Thrones
Washington and Beijing Battle for Influence in Myanmar

China is looking to regain some influence in Myanmar according to the WSJ:

China is trying to rekindle its influence in Myanmar by building a deep-water port here, presenting an early test for the incoming government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in balancing local objections against ties with the country’s top economic partner.

The project, which includes a special economic zone, would help Beijing’s effort to extend its presence in the Indian Ocean and in South Asia and restore the privileged position it once enjoyed under Myanmar’s former military junta.

But the initiative is in doubt because Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, which picks a president in March and takes power in April, says it will review big previously awarded projects, including this one made in December to a Chinese-led consortium. The new administration must weigh significant anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar and local opposition to the project against the risk of alienating its powerful northern neighbor.

The opening of Myanmar has been a geopolitical success for the United States—albeit a tenuous one. By bringing Myanmar into the international world order, Washington has been slowly peeling it away from Beijing’s side. But this story is a reminder that this American endeavor won’t be easy: Chinese officials and businesses have lots of relationships in Myanmar that Aung San Suu Kyi may find it’s simply not worth disrupting.

Washington has to be careful here. If Myanmar falls into disarray, that’s likely to compel the military to reverse course (as it’s been known to do in the past). But Suu Kyi has no experience actually running a country, and nor do most of her allies, so they will likely need the military’s expertise in the early stages if they are to rule effectively. That dependence (and the military’s constitutionally-mandated 25% of the legislature) gives the more pro-China military several pressure points on the incoming government.

Many analysts look at Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise as a human rights story, but they shouldn’t forget the geopolitical importance of what’s happening here: Myanmar is a major battleground for influence between Washington and Beijing. The outcome will ripple through Southeast Asia and beyond.

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  • Anthony

    “In our time, it is worthwhile to reaffirm that our business with China is peaceful, mutually advantageous trade. It is also worthwhile to convey to the Chinese that it is our business and ours alone what relationship with the nations of East Asia would best serve our military security, and that we will support our decisions militarily…it is worthwhile to affirm what we are about. This does not mean berating the Chinese…It does mean leaving no doubt that we intend to live by the laws of nature and nature’s God – if indeed we do.” (Angelo Codevilla)

  • Andrew Allison

    What, exactly, is the geopolitical (as opposed to, say, human rights) importance of Myanmar? Isn’t “major battleground” overstating the case? Surely Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are of much more importance.

    • Kevin

      Perhaps more important to India than the US – but brining them in from being a pariah (and avoiding the North Kore route) is worth something to the US too.

  • Dhako

    The day Mexico stop being a cheap source of what is in effect a “glorified-indentured” labor-force for the US’s internal continental-size market, will be the day, the Chinese state will lose it’s influence over Myanmar, both politically and militarily. But, then, again, the TAI (and it’s legions of writers) are known for indulging all manner of delusions and fictions where China’s Geo-economical heft is concern. In particularly, where her regions is concern; whereby, they even imagine China’s losing a battle of economical competition in her regions to that ever politically dysfunctional Uncle Sam. Hence, pity wrapped with a contemptuous foil should be what one should paid back them, as a “token gift” for their collective delusions.

    • Tom

      When your arable land is being used for factories, and your rivers are undrinkable, and your air is unbreathable, perhaps you need to be the object of pity.

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