China, along with Russia, has responded positively to what they call a “change of cabinet” in Burma, while the international community vehemently rejects the attack on the nascent democracy.
The military-led coup in Burma has unleashed a wave of attacks against citizens protesting for freedom in the country. The military has deployed armed vehicles against protesters, along with arrests of civilians and members of the press, as well as massive disruptions to the internet and media, according to reports by foreign diplomats in Burma’s capital Yangon.
Burma is a country rich in gemstone mines, gas and geographically grants economic and military benefits, mainly to China. Mining is 70% dependent on Chinese traders, according to research.
TIME magazine published a report on the conditions in which workers are exploited for the extraction of jade and diamonds, whose benefits are mainly obtained by Chinese businesspeople, since the area is forbidden to other foreigners.
Chinese hegemony diminished from 2015, when the democratic government articulated an opening that allowed businessmen from Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Thailand to also invest in Burma. It also provided an opportunity for the United States to introduce international human rights observers.
China helps the Burmese army to control protests
The media reported that Chinese “information technology experts and hardware equipment arrived in Burma at the request of the military government.” These firewall equipment were recently sent to network and telecommunications operators to be operational by mid-February.
Burma is a rich source of natural resources such as timber, jade and natural gas for China. It also offers access to the ocean from the southwest, something Beijing has sought to develop through the China-Burma Economic Corridor, which links Burma’s Yunnan province with the Bay of Bengal.
While the army is trying not to rely entirely on China, according to the press it has established arms trade ties with Moscow, yet the CCP was reported to be “helping the Burma Army build a cyber firewall,” causing citizens to demonstrate in front of the Chinese Embassy after the coup.
Chinese investment in Burma
China and Burma became closer during the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, due to the Belt and Road plan. This civilian leader had been questioned for the persecution of Muslims in Burma and therefore decided to expand her ties with the Chinese Communist regime.
Beijing’s investments “account for 25% of total foreign investments.” The CCP has “carefully cultivated its ties” with both the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, making the 2021 coup reminiscent of Burma’s times of international isolation.
Sanctions on Yangon for its military dictatorships and human rights violations against workers in the mines have made China a key partner, as it is the gateway to trade in gemstones extracted from the Asian country’s mines, according to TIME.
However, under Suu Kyi’s democratic-led government, the economy expanded its ties with the West, resulting in a 26% decrease in debt to China. In addition, “trade with Western countries increased and the trade deficit with China narrowed”.
The U.S. against the coup
China blocked a United Nations (UN) Security Council statement condemning the military coup in Burma and has urged the international community not to impose measures against the regime.
However, the United States approved new sanctions against those responsible for the military coup in Burma.
“We are also going to impose strong export controls. We are freezing American assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups and other areas that directly benefit the people of Burma,” President Joe Biden said.
Sanctions imposed by Western countries on Burma gave an advantage to China, which became for decades the only economy negotiating with the Yangon regime.
The coup in Burma affects the search for a free and open Indo-Pacific region led by the United States, and increases tensions on account of China’s influence on other countries, such as Thailand, Hong Kong or the Philippines.