Burma junta 'fears domination' by China

Sept 14, 2009 (DVB), The strength of relations between Burma and China should not be overstated, according to a think tank who said today that continued reliance on China to affect change in Burma is misguided.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report today countering the widely held belief that China holds the key to Burma's future.

"While China has substantial political, economic and strategic stakes in Myanmar [Burma], its influence is overstated" said the report, China's Myanmar Dilemma.

"The relationship between China and Myanmar is best characterised as a marriage of convenience rather than a love match," it said, adding that the nationalistic junta leaders "do not take orders from anyone".

China is the ruling junta's principal ally, whose power of veto in the United Nations has on a number of occasions saved Burma from Security Council action.

Business relations are growing stronger, with China this month beginning work on a multi-billion dollar project to construct oil and gas pipelines across Burma connecting southern China with the Bay of Bengal.

Yet according to the ICG, political instability in Burma could prove costly for Chinese business interests across the border.

"China should recognise that its economic interests are threatened by the status quo, where Myanmar is identified as one of the most corrupt countries," Donald Steinberg, deputy president of the ICG, told DVB today, adding that instability in Burma "could thwart those interests".

Furthermore, according to the report, regional competition over Burma's resources "has allowed Myanmar to counterbalance China by strengthening cooperation with other countries such as India, Russia, Thailand, Singapore, North Korea and Malaysia".

Relations between the two countries appeared fragile last month after fighting between Burmese troops and an armed ethnic group in northeastern Burma forced some 37,000 refugees across the border into China.

In a rare rebuke from Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry urged Burma to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area".

The ICG urged the international community to recognise the limitations of both China's influence, and actual desire to influence, the Burmese government, but that all regional stakeholder's "should take part in a meaningful and concerted effort to address the transition in Myanmar."

Reporting by Francis Wade and Than Win Htut

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