China-Myanmar conflict gives India an opportunity


Senior Member
Jun 29, 2009
Country flag
China-Myanmar conflict gives India an opportunity -

New Delhi: China may have stood like a rock behind Myanmar for the past 20 years while the rest of the world treated it like a pariah, vetoing UN resolutions against the military regime, providing it arms and billions of dollars to develop infrastructure, and thus allowing the isolated country to cock a snook at the international community. But now, cracks are appearing in that relationship, which, analysts say, can benefit New Delhi if exploited well, particularly since India already has more than a toehold in Myanmar.

The overwhelming Chinese presence had rung alarm bells in some quarters of the Myanmar military establishment. General Than Shwe, a smart tactician, believes his country cannot afford to put all its eggs in the China basket and wants India and other countries to come in with major developmental projects.

The recent release of the American citizen who swam across to Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's home is an indication that the bamboo curtain is lifting inch by inch. There is hope in Yangon that the new Barack Obama administration in the US would be less sanctimonious and gradually open up to Myanmar. The Americans are saying nothing publicly but the visit of US senator Jim Webb in August, when he called the sanctions against Myanmar "overwhelmingly counterproductive", gives room for hope.

Yangon's problems with China in recent months in the border areas, where ethnic Chinese have clashed with the Myanmar army, have led to fresh tension.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Kokang, an ethnic Chinese region in the northern Shan state bordering China, has been under attack by the army which wants all its tribes in the north east of the country, allowed by a China-brokered peace agreement in 1989, to integrate into Myanmar's forces and become border guards.

The junta demanded the ethnic armies become militias under the control of the armed forces. Fearing the loss of autonomy and business, major groups rejected the junta's demand.

Refusing to take no for an answer, government forces attacked and defeated Karen rebels in June. And the junta launched an assault on MNDAA, triggering an exodus of over 30,000 refugees, including Chinese citizens doing business in Kokang, across the border into Nansan county. Beijing called on the military government to restore order in the border area and unprecedentedly, to "protect the safety and legal rights of Chinese citizens in Myanmar".

The situation in Kokang has stabilised and Chinese authorities are encouraging refugee return. But the simmering differences have come to the surface.

India, which has changed its policy towards Myanmar since the early 1990s, can become a game-changer in the country if it plays its cards well. China flies in its own labour to work on sites funded by Beijing and small China towns have sprung up in many areas of Myanmar. It is the same story in Africa where the Chinese aid, while appreciated, has also alarmed many.

This is something Yangon is uneasy about and New Delhi can make good use of. But despite promises of major development projects, the Indian bureaucracy is lethargic and moves at a snail's pace. If India wants to be a game-changer in Myanmar, it needs to quickly get its act together.

Latest Replies

Global Defence

New threads