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Why China is becoming friends with the cornered kid - Myanmar

Myanmar has been under significant pressure from global powers on the back of the Rohingya crisis, an event that had led to the mass migration of more than 700K Rohingya Muslims. Amidst the backlash from the western world however, China has remained a steady supporter of Myanmar and is now strengthening ties via key investments. In today's post, we track the deal China has made, understand the rationale for the same, and most importantly see the impact it has on India, both, economically and militarily.

What does the China-Myanmar Deal include?

China and Myanmar recently signed 33 bilateral agreements that significantly strengthen relationships between the two countries. Amongst other things, the deal includes a rail-road into Myanmar that will aid trade between the two countries and a sea-port that strengthens China's Belt & Road initiative. The sea-port on the east becomes especially important when seen in conjunction with China's Gwadar Port on the Pakistani coast, which effectively gives them a way to flank India in times of conflict. It also significantly increases the stress on our naval resources to guard new waters.

The China-Myanmar relationship

The relationship from Myanmar's end is one of reluctance. Like other smaller countries in the area, their leaders have been wary of China's growing power over them, and the implications of the significant energy and infrastructure investments that the Asian behemoth has made in these countries.

The Rohingya crisis, however, significantly weakened Myanmar's stance globally, putting it under a lot of scrutiny from Western players, with the result of the human-rights violation case in the International Court of Justice expected soon. China also supports the country significantly by blocking sanctions in the UN. The global scrutiny has backed Myanmar into a corner like the cornered kid in a school playground, with China emerging as the bully who’s offering help. Although Myanmar and its people are reluctant to accept it, they have very little choice at this point of time.

The impact on India

The Kyaukpyu sea-port is by far the greatest threat to India. Though, the port is currently being developed as an economic port, China can leverage the huge debts that Myanmar will owe them, and convert this into a dual-use port, using it to strengthen its presence along India's Eastern coast as well. For India, this means its naval presence will be spread too thin in the near future due to the need of increased surveillance in the Bay of Bengal and this will call for more investments and upgrades.

The saving grace here is that India has been largely silent on Myanmar's dealing of its minorities, calling it their internal security issue in response to some criticism from the West. While this might not have been the best step to take ideally, in the complex world of international diplomacy, this has preserved India's relationship with its eastern neighbour. In the times to come, India will have to actively maintain and improve relations with them in order to protect its sovereign interests.

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