International Condemnation and China’s Enticement: Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Predicament
By Zhang Hongzhou
The China Programme of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at RSIS hosted Dr Enze Han, Associate Professor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong, on 14 November 2018. Dr Han delivered a seminar on “International Condemnation and China’s Enticement: Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Predicament”. At the seminar, Dr Han provided a comprehensive review of the evolution of Myanmar’s relations with China and western countries. Dr Han noted that Myanmar’s foreign relations in the recent past have witnessed some major ups and downs, especially since the escalation in international condemnation of the Aung San Suu Kyi government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis.
Over the past few decades, owing to Myanmar’s diplomatic isolation under military rule, China had achieved strategic penetration in the country. However, following normalisation of relations between Myanmar and the United States, and domestic political reforms in 2011, Myanmar reset its relationship with China. Nevertheless, Dr Han argued that these diplomatic successes quickly led to Myanmar’s strategic overreach in handling the Rohingya crisis. While this crisis is deeply rooted in Myanmar’s domestic political environment and there has been a history of violence toward ethnic minorities and stateless people, Dr Han highlighted the differences this time round – that of peculiar calculations made by the Myanmar military who felt it might be able to get away from punitive international censure.
Dr Han believed the crucial geopolitical “stardom” that Myanmar has been enjoying for the past few years was the main reason for Naypyidaw’s strategic overreach. The Myanmar government’s actions in Rakhine state have attracted wide international condemnation and renewed sanctions from western countries. Aung San Suu Kyi herself was also heavily criticised and stripped of numerous awards and honorary titles owing to her inaction in the crackdown on the Rohingyas.
Amid growing international condemnation and sanctions, China has provided crucial support to Myanmar at the United Nations. In addition, China also brokered a three-stage solution between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the repatriation of Rohingyas in November 2017. Dr Han said he noticed prominent changes in Myanmar’s domestic public opinion towards western countries and China – one of increasing hostility towards western interference, with a friendlier attitude towards China. As a result, Myanmar has become a firm supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as was highlighted by the signing of the MOU on China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and the deal on the port in Rakhine State Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
Last updated on 23/01/2019