Narayanan Ganesan (Professor)
This project seeks to identify the factors that impinge on Myanmar’s bilateral relations with China. This is Myanmar’s most important bilateral relationship although it has been somewhat weakened following the lifting of wide ranging Western sanctions against the country after the elections of 2010. Prior to that period and especially after Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention under house arrest in 2003 China wielded disproportionate influence on Myanmar. The Western sanctions regime then allowed China the unique opportunity of enhancing the bilateral relationship through trade and economic assistance as well as infrastructural development. This relationship was possible since China does not attach conditionalities to its trade and investment policies, unlike Western countries.
There are a large number of issues in the bilateral relationship. These include political and security issues like ethnic insurgency and drug and human trafficking. Similarly, there are a number of important economic and investment issues as well. China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and investor. Raw materials like oil, gas, minerals, timber and agricultural products are important trade items. China is also heavily invested in the production of oil and gas and hydroelectric power on the Thanlwin and Ayeryawaddy Rivers.
The relationship is clearly an asymmetrical one in China’s favour. And the trade and investment balance is also in China’s favour. However, Myanmar governments have traditionally balanced and tempered their bilateral relations with China by engaging other neighbouring countries like India and Thailand. Additionally the lifting of the sanctions regime has also meant that countries like the United States, European Union and Japan have become major players as well. Notwithstanding such developments, China is interested in engaging Myanmar as part of its Belt and Road Initiative as well since Myanmar provides Chine with access routes to the Indian Ocean. While the country’s access routes in the South China Sea are constantly challenged by other countries, a second access route to the sea would constitute an important strategic alternative and would also help bypass the Strait of Malacca and help China save on shipping costs.
2. Paper Title
*Bilateral Issues in Myanmar’s Relations with China
3. Project Details and Research Outcome
Research for the project involved field trips and interviews with academics and policy makers in Thailand and Myanmar in January 2017. Following additional secondary research two articles were written. The first which has been accepted for publication after peer review is entitled “Changing Dynamics in Myanmar’s Ethnic Peace Process and the Growing Role of China” and will appear in the next issue of the Asian Journal of Peacebuilding published at Seoul National University. A second and broader piece entitled “Bilateral Issues in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Towards China” has been under review for over 4 months now and the outcome is not yet certain. Regardless of the outcome it will be eventually placed in a credible peer reviewed journal as well.