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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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