Myanmar’s Ethno-Sectarian Clashes…


Containing China?

Myanmar faces innumerable challenges in its pursuit of development. They range from combating forms of racism and violence that target Myanmar’s ethnic minorities to the lack of basic infrastructure and civic educational initiatives to maintaining national sovereignty while introducing liberalizing economic reforms. Myanmar’s diverse mosaic of politically oppressed ethnic groups put the national government in a sensitive position; continued Western support for their autonomy or independence could give rise to the formation of break-away states, too small to assert their sovereignty at the foot of multinational corporations.

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By Nile BowieThe situation in Myanmar is not merely to be understood on an emotional and ethical level. Rather, it is shaped by significant geopolitical and economic realities. Enormous natural gas deposits valued at several billion dollars have been found in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Arakan State, where predominantly Chinese companies are mining in partnership with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. [31] Construction has begun on oil and gas transport pipelines from Arakan State to Yunnan Province in China. Sittwe, capital of the Arakan State, is effectively the epicenter of one of China’s most crucial international investments, indispensable for Beijing in its effort to meet the increasing energy demands of its densely populated southwestern provinces. Additionally, ongoing ethnic conflicts in Myanmar correspond directly with large-scale Chinese development projects. Similar to other joint US-Saudi sponsored forms of destabilization; the modus operandi of these external networks has been to exacerbate long-standing ethnic and religious tensions to bring about far-reaching unrest. Political analyst Eric Draitser writes:

This project, a twin oil and gas pipeline, which would traverse Myanmar to link China’s southwestern Yunnan province with the Indian Ocean would, consequently, provide the Chinese land-based access to energy imports from Africa and the Middle East. Because of US naval dominance, not being completely reliant on commercial shipping is an integral aspect of the overall Chinese strategy. The pipeline itself is not the only issue for the Chinese. Sittwe is the site of the major Chinese-funded port, which, aside from being the starting point of the pipeline, is a vital access point to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Imports such as minerals and other raw materials from Africa as well as oil from the Middle East would be shipped through this port (along with the Pakistani port of Gwadar) for sale on the Chinese market. It is for this reason that Sittwe is of crucial significance to Chinese economic development. Naturally, as Sittwe and the rest of the Rakhine state descends into chaos and the international community clamors for some form of intervention, the port, pipeline and other projects cannot continue as planned.

The development of China’s economy has been accompanied by a dependence upon offshore resources, primarily from reserves in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Angola. For Beijing, energy security is essential to the continued growth of its economy, which, in turn, ensures domestic political stability. 80 percent of China’s oil imports currently pass through the Strait of Malacca, a narrow waterway located between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, linking the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean. The importance of the Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipeline, consisting of two parallel oil and gas pipelines, is its function as an alternative transport route for crude oil imports from the Middle East to potentially bypass the Strait of Malacca, thus deterring the ability of hostile naval powers to disrupt a vital energy corridor to China. The United States has announced its plans to reposition 60 percent of its navy to the Asia Pacific region by 2020, as cited in the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance report entitled, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” This crucial document highlights Washington’s growing emphasis on containing China’s military buildup in a move to enhance American presence in one of the most economically dynamic parts of the world.

Washington’s endorsement of a strategy designed to contain China is attributable to US foreign policy theoreticians such as Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, co-founder of the neoconservative political organization, Project for the New American Century. Kagan’s 1997 article,What China Knows That We Don’t: The Case for a New Strategy of Containment,” argues that the most effective means of preserving the present international order that “serves the needs of the United States and its allies, which constructed it,” is not to accommodate the peaceful rise of China, but to strengthen American military capabilities in the region and to work towards political change in Beijing:

The changes in the external and internal behavior of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s resulted at least in part from an American strategy that might be called “integration through containment and pressure for change.” Such a strategy needs to be applied to China today. As long as China maintains its present form of government, it cannot be peacefully integrated into the international order.

Kagan describes how China’s leadership interprets Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific as a move to “severely limit their own ability to become the region’s hegemon,” namely by countering Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. Reports issued by the United States Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute reflect the adoption of Kagan’s containment methodology. “String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral,” authored by Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J Pehrson, highlights China’s geopolitical interests and economic presence in several regions, which include a container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, the construction of a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, in addition to the construction of a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan, among other locations. Reports issued by the Washington Times confirm that Pehrson’s containment strategy has been employed as policy, reissued in a paper entitled “Energy Futures in Asia,” produced by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

It appears that the sectarian violence in Arakan State beginning in June 2012 is the likely result of covert intelligence operations aiming to destabilize western Myanmar to counter China’s vital economic investment in the region. This is in line with Washington’s policy objectives of curbing Beijing’s influence in Southeast Asia. Reforms introduced by President Thein Sein have opened the door to mass foreign investment, the political ascension of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the presence of American NGOs associated with and financially supported by US State Department, including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Foundations, U.S. Campaign for Burma, and others. While the United States has placed its support behind the National League for Democracy in the person of Suu Kyi, she has in turn exercised her influence to execute political and economic objectives that adhere to US foreign policy.

Suu Kyi and a stable of Western-funded NGOs have successfully used their influence to block the construction of a joint energy project between the Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power, Asia World Company, and the China Power Investment Corporation.

Full analysis.

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