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Coup in Burma: China Stops US’ Freedom Plans in Asia

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Asia is experiencing tense times due to the Chinese Communist Party’s economic and political plans. Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, staged a coup d’état against the democratic government headed by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi after he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the capital Nay Pyi Taw in mid-January 2021.

Until the coup, Burma was a strategic partner of the United States in Asia. To fight the Chinese Communist Party, Washington supports 35 partner countries in the region, which also receive economic and military support from the United States.

The military coup by Min Aung Hlaing reflects, according to analysts, the support that China has given to the military and Aung San Suu Ky’s opposition. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi “called the two countries brothers and praised the national revitalization of the military,” according to the press.

Burma headed by military chief Min Aung Hlaing, has expressed its support for the Chinese Communist Party’s actions against freedom and democracy in the region.

“Burma is happy to witness China’s growing international status and influence, and will firmly strengthen its comprehensive cooperation with Beijing and support the Communist Party of China’s stance on its issues related to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang,¨ said Min Aung Hlaing.

The press noted that the international community rejected the military coup and highlighted that the Biden Administration “threatened to impose sanctions on the country”. Other voices of rejection came from Europe, the United Nations (UN) and Australia.

Political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, seen as an ally of the West, despite being strongly criticized for her authoritarian actions, along with the President and members of the government were arrested by the military.

It should be recalled that Aung San Suu Kyi received the support of then U.S. President Donald Trump in the name of supporting democratic changes in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi - Donald Trump - Burma - Asean - El American
Donald Trump and leader Aung San Suu Kyi, arrive to pose for a family photo during the 40th ASEAN-US commemorative summit, held on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. (Efe)

The U.S. defends democracy

Authoritarian regimes impose anti-democratic challenges on the United States to jeopardize its hegemony in Asia.

On the one hand, China has argued that the democratic system is not compatible with Asian culture and on the other hand, they have accused the United States of not having the standing to defend democracy.

However, U.S. support for democracy is strong enough. The press and analysts have highlighted the role that American institutions have played throughout history in Asia.

Thai Army soldiers hold the Thai national flag (R) and the U.S. national flag (L) as they parade during the opening ceremony of the annual Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs Conference. (Efe)

The United States’ Pacific allies also support its democratic plans, as in the case of Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and India.

Authoritarian regimes that have left more than 100 million victims have found in the United States a strong opponent. Although China represents the strongest economy in the region, U.S. allies are betting on prosperity hand in hand with democratic values in order to contain the advance of the Chinese Communist Party.

Burma between democracy and authoritarianism

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma’s independence hero, General Aung San. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while still under house arrest, and was hailed as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.”

In 2015, she led her party led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in Burma’s first openly contested election in 25 years.¨

Former U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Burma’s political leader Aung San Suu Kyi during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on September 14, 2016. (Efe)

The Barack Obama administration lifted restrictions and sanctions on Burma in exchange for the implementation of democratic institutions. President Donald Trump followed suit and reinforced Burma as an important ally for Washington in the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.

The West has viewed Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership with skepticism, according to the press, “in the wake of the military crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic group in 2017 that forced 730,000 members of this minority to flee to Bangladesh.”

Burma prefers the Chinese Communist Party

China is Burma’s main trade ally. In turn, Burma is indispensable to China’s trade routes, energy, and military interests.

Specifically, Aung San Suu Kyi and Xi Jinping had forged close ties over China’s plans for the Belt and Road initiative and the Chinese Communist Party’s support for the repression of the Muslim community of the Rohingya, according to press reports.

Aung San Suu Kyi - Xi Jinping - Burma - El American
China’s President Xi Jinping welcomes Burma’s political leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the meeting that sealed support between the two countries in 2019. (Efe)

The China-Burma Economic Corridor around the Belt and Road initiative, has enabled the development of investment plans in railroads, maritime infrastructure and the construction of a special economic zone between the two countries.

The press has highlighted that the Burma project is important to China because Kyaukpyu (Burma’s seaport) is the terminus of previously constructed pipelines to China, and provides “Beijing with an alternative route for energy imports that avoids the narrow and geopolitically sensitive Straits of Malacca.”

Analysts believe that the concessions given by Burma to China will give China advantages in the military field comparable to other regions in Asia where Beijing’s allies have allowed it to establish a permanent military presence, as in the case in Cambodia.

Camilo Bello is a consultant focused on Asia Pacific studies and has experience in strategic management. He has studied law in Colombia and is currently pursuing studies in language and history at National Taiwan Normal University. He has collaborated with Students for Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan // Camilo es consultor enfocado en estudios de Asia Pacífico y experiencia en gestión estratégica. Cuenta con estudios en Derecho en Colombia y actualmente se encuentra realizando estudios en lenguaje e historia en National Taiwan Normal University. Colaborador de Estudiantes por la Libertad en Hong Kong y Taiwán

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