Beijing, Longtime Supporter of Burma, Watching Coup Situation Closely: Reporter

February 4, 2021 Updated: February 7, 2021

Beijing has much at stake in Burma as the Southeast Asian country plunged into a political crisis after a military coup, according to OANN TV host and former Navy intelligence officer Jack Posobiec.

“When it comes to the Burma situation…this is all about the reach and the stretch of the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] influence across not only in East Asia, the South China Sea, but now we’re seeing into Southeast Asia,” said Posobiec in an interview with The Epoch Times’ sister media NTD.

On Jan. 31, Burma’s military seized control of the country by arresting the country’s top political leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of other lawmakers. The army said it carried out the coup because of alleged electoral fraud during the federal elections in November last year. Suu Kyi’s political party, National League for Democracy, had won by a landslide. The military placed Burmese army chief Min Aung Hlaing, 64, in charge of the country.

The Burmese military has since drawn widespread criticism for its coup, including foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G-7) nations, human rights groups, and United Nations special rapporteur Tom Andrews.

CCP

Posobiec said China’s long history of supporting Burma, whether it was led by Suu Kyi or the former military junta, had to do with how the CCP sees its southeast neighbor as an important source of rare earth metals and a strategic corridor to the Indian Ocean. Burma and southwestern China’s Yunnan Province share an extensive border.

On Feb. 2, China and Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council joint statement condemning the military coup.

China and Russia also blocked a U.N. Security Council statement in March 2017, that expressed concern about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s coastal Rakhine State. The persecution has resulted in more than 740,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing to Burma’s western neighbor Bangladesh.

In 2007, China and Russia vetoed a U.S. resolution calling on Burma’s military junta, then in control of the state, to release political prisoners and speed up its progress toward democracy.

Burma is one of the largest producers of rare earths in the world. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Burma ranked third in rare-earth production in 2019, behind China and the United States. China accounts for over 70 percent of global annual production.

According to Chinese state-run media Global Times, China imported 26,000 tons of carbonate-based rare earth compounds from Burma in 2018.

Rare earths are 17 elements on the periodic table that are required for manufacturing electronics, such as computers, digital cameras, and computer monitors, as well as defense products used by the U.S. military.

In 2018, China and Burma signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the construction of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which includes rails and roads that will link  Yunnan’s capital of Kunming to the Burmese cities of Muse and Mandalay, which are, in turn, linked to Burma’s port of Kyaukpyu in southern Rakhine State.

The CMEC project, which also includes building oil and gas pipelines, is a part of China’s foreign policy project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road).

Through the sea port and other Chinese-built infrastructure, Beijing can ship oil from Iran through Burma, bypassing the Strait of Malacca.

Posobiec explained that Chinese construction projects in Burma, as well as similar projects in Pakistan, serve as “strategic encirclement” against Indian forces as the Chinese regime seeks to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean.

China also has similar BRI construction projects in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which included the development of the Pakistan port of Gwadar.

Last month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping traveled to Burma and met with Suu Kyi. The two sides signed 33 agreements, including an MoU on local cooperation under the CMEC between Yunnan and Mandalay, according to the Burmese government.

While it remains to be seen whether Beijing would publicly side with the Burmese military or Suu Kyi, the army chief Min Aung Hlaing visited China in mid-January. At the meeting, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi praised Burma’s military for taking “national revitalization as its mission.”

Biden Administration

“I think the Biden administration’s response has been completely soft,” Posobiec said. He questioned why neither President Joe Biden nor State Secretary Antony Blinken has held a press conference to talk about Burma.

He added: “There’s no talk of economic warfare. There’s no talk of economic leverage that the United States could be using against China, against Burma in this situation.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department designated the military takeover in Burma a “coup,” meaning that U.S. aid to the Southeast Asian country will be cut.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement on Jan. 31 saying that the U.S. “will take action against those responsible” for the military actions in Burma.

On Feb. 1, Biden issued a statement saying the United States will “work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law” in Burma.

According to the White House, Biden has since spoken to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the Burma situation, including about working together to “hold to account those responsible for the coup in Burma.”

On Feb. 3, Rep. Carlos A Gimenez (R-Fla.) warned on Twitter that Burma’s military coup “emboldens #China’s interests in the Indo-Pacific and undermines everything we stand for.”

“The international community must come together to condemn, sanction, and increase diplomatic pressure on the military to return Myanmar [alternative name for Burma] to civilian authority,” he added.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer