President Xi Jinping’s visit underscores that his country has regained its dominant position in Myanmar after setbacks under the U Thein Sein government, but China will need to be careful how it exerts its influence in the years ahead.
CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping’s decision to make Myanmar his first overseas destination in 2020 surprised many. It should not have: his January 17-18 trip was the result of trends that have brought the two countries much closer in the past several years, and reflects the elevation of Myanmar’s importance in China’s foreign policy and of Sino-Myanmar relations generally. But while the visit has ushered bilateral relations into a new era from the Chinese perspective, this new era will still face constraints from several important and longstanding factors.
The inventory of the issues discussed and agreements signed during Xi’s visit is not particularly impressive. After all, major projects such as the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and the New Yangon City have long been in the pipeline and one could even argue that their progress has been slow compared to similar projects in other mainland Southeast Asian countries. China’s support of the peace process and of Myanmar on the Rohingya issue has been consistent under the National League for Democracy government, so assurances on that front were expected. And it is no surprise that China wishes to push forward the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and its access to the Indian Ocean – they have been China’s stated goals for quite some years. So, what is really new here?
Read the full Op-Ed in Frontier Myanmar.