Geopolitics

Did China know in advance of the military coup in Myanmar?

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met military chief Min Aung Hlaing last month and now he is in charge

China’s statement was bland. But the repercussions of the military coup in Myanmar will not be lost on the mandarins in Beijing.

Dawn raids on Monday saw the arrest of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and senior members of her National League for Democracy. President Win Myint was also detained.

Last November, the NLD won a landslide election with 70% of the vote despite the country being mired in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, the army has claimed widespread fraud and used that excuse to overthrow the government in defiance of the constitution.

For China, the coup poses a dilemma for President Xi Jinping’s government. Last month Foreign Minister Wang Yi met military chief Min Aung Hlaing, who has now assumed power, during a visit to Myanmar.

“We have noted what has happened in the country and are in the process of further understanding the situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily media briefing in Beijing.

The facts:

  • The key question is, did Beijing know this was going to happen?
  • Last year, the two nations signed 33 bilateral agreements linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • They included rail networks and a deep-sea port project along an economic corridor from China’s South West to the Indian Ocean.
  • In March, Beijing announced a US$6.78 billion aid package to Myanmar under the Beijing-inspired Mekong-Lancang Cooperation program.
  • China already has strategic economic interests in the country with major oil and gas pipelines running through Myanmar.

What was said: “China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar’s. We hope that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework, and safeguard political and social stability,” Wang said after refusing to comment on whether China knew in advance about the coup.

Reaction to the news: State-controlled Xinhua failed to report on the barrage of international condemnation sparked by the military takeover. Instead, it said: “The Myanmar military [stressed] that new elections will be held [once] the state of emergency [ends next year,] returning power to the new government.”

China Factor comment: Myanmar is a crucial piece of the Southeast Asia corner of the giant Belt and Road jigsaw puzzle. It seems unlikely China was caught off guard by the army’s grab for power.

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