China is Myanmar’s most important neighbour though India too is vying for prominence but oversized presence and long standing relations marked by the phrase Pauk-Phaw denotes a priority for Beijing despite the current aggressive diplomacy. In the south Thailand is seen as a key economic and trading partner linking with the ASEAN. For ASEAN countries as Singapore Myanmar is an investment destination while others see the country from an ethnic and religious lens particularly after the 2017 Rohingya cleansing by the Myanmar Army.
The West was taking keen interest in Myanmar after the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2015 however post military coup the perspective has changed of support to democracy.
Relation with China
China’s interests in Myanmar have a legacy, ethnic roots and modern economic engagement through the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Myanmar is wary of domineering Chinese influence and thus the traditional Pyaukphu or brotherly relations are tempered with sobriety.
China also provides Myanmar a shield in the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member given Tatmadaw’s poor human rights record with the 2017 pogrom of sorts being categorised as a genocide and a case is ongoing in the International Court of Justice.
Accepting reality of military take over China has started calling Myanmar junta the “government” and pledged US$6 million to fund 21 development projects in the country. A new rail line provides China access to the Indian Ocean and was opened on Aug. 25 on the Chinese side of the border stretching from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to Lincang, a prefecture-level city in China’s Yunnan Province opposite Chin Shwe Haw, a border trade town in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan State.
The rail line will enable China to trans-ship cargo from Singapore Port via Myanmar. Cargo will be shipped from Singapore Port to Yangon Port. From there it will be transported to Chin Shwe Haw in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone by road, and then by rail from Lincang to Chengdu. The route is the first to link western China with the Indian Ocean reducing the time needed to import cargo to landlocked Yunnan Province. The route will go through Mandalay, Lashio and Hsenwi on the Myanmar side.
China surprisingly is also promoting relations with NLD possibly underlining the long term view of Beijing that democracy even in Myanmar is inevitable. China wants to see the NLD continue to exist as a political party. In early August 2021, China has invited the NLD for a conference of all political parties.
India and the West
Against this backdrop India has been promoting relations in Myanmar through multiple tracks from diplomacy to politics and the military. India provided Myanmar with the first submarine, a Kilo class boat in 2020. Indian approach towards the Caretaker government represents pragmatism while some outreach is expected to be made towards the NLD.
The United States and the West approach is towards promoting democracy thus it was not surprising that military takeover was condemned and placed a number of military leaders under sanctions. At the same time communications have been opened with the National Unity Government (NUG). US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with a representative of the NUG, Daw Zin Mar Aung, appointed acting foreign minister.
United Nations is also looking at engagement of the military led caretaker government and the NUG and NLD but response remains unevern. Secretary-General’s special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener engaged the deputy junta chief, Vice-Senior General Soe Win, about Myanmar’s crisis focusing on persecution of civilians, freedom of speech and the media and called for the release of all political detainees.
A special summit over the Myanmar crisis in April 21 by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) saw members reach a five-point consensus to lessen the violence and monitor the crisis, including deploying an ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar. Brunei’s Erywan Yusof who had visited Myanmar along with the bloc's secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi in May has been nominated as a special envoy. Yousuf has called for a cease fire till end of the year to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid, however there has been limited response from either side. The special envoy made the proposal to the junta-appointed Foreign Minister, U Wunna Maung Lwin, on August 31.