This week’s DVB Debate comes at a time when Sino-Burmese relations are under the microscope.
In northeastern Shan State, conflict rages between the Burmese army and Kokang rebels, who are of ethnic Chinese descent, and whom many observers believe enjoy logistical support from Beijing. While China has recently accused Burma of responsibility for a bomb that killed five Chinese farmers, it has also been forced to deny accusations that Chinese mercenaries are working for the Kokang.
Despite the armed conflict, China’s business interest in Burma has never been higher. Timber, gems, jade, and various mining contracts are eyed by businessmen, while the Chinese government looks to maintain its footprint in the country with multibillion-yuan investments in hydropower, oil and gas imports.
Yet beneath the smiles and handshakes lies a tormented and distrusting relationship, shaped by decades of Communist ideology, military fraternity and corrupt business concessions: two countries that for years rejected the modernization and technology of the West, and instead embarked on independent plans to isolate their respective countries.
But as China’s dawn as a superpower begins, what lies ahead for Burma? Will it benefit from China’s economic power or will it be devoured by the Dragon’s insatiable appetite?
Sein Win Aung, of the Myanmar-China Friendship Association, says the Sino-Burmese relationship is a win-win. “They help us at the UN with their veto and we helped them to reach a high position at the UN as well.”
Panelists question how the vicious war in the Kokang region will affect Chinese interests within Burma.
“China wants peace restored because it has strategic interests in Myanmar,” said writer Than Soe Naing.
China has repeatedly called on Naypyidaw to ensure stability in the volatile border area. Chinese helicopter gunships now patrol the divide. Beijing has deployed troops to the region in an effort to prevent the violence from spilling over.
“There is a specific term that China always uses – ‘border stability’,” adds peace worker Nang Raw.
“Therefore, only with border stability can they maximise their interests.”
Kyaw Zwa Moe, managing editor at Irrawaddy magazine, insisted that it is possible to enter into deals with China on an equal footing.
“We should build a dignified relationship with China. Even though we are small, we can build that relationship.”
“We need to consider that China needs Myanmar,” agrees Zeya Thu of media outlet The Voice Daily.
“Therefore, we should have the courage to ask China what we want.”