China debates bridging Silk Road blueprint with India’s “Look East” policy in Myanmar
China has assured Myanmar that it will not interfere in its domestic affairs, despite a cross-border surge in the Yunnan province of refugees, who are escaping fighting following a military offensive in northern Myanmar.
Heavy fighting between the Myanmar army and Kokang rebels for control of Laukkai township in the northern Shan state, is causing civilians to flee across the border, Myanmar’s newspaper, The Irrawaddy, quoting a rebel source, is reporting.
Despite the close ethnic ties between the Kokang people and mainland groups, China has made it plain it will not be drawn into the conflict.
The Chinese are also debating whether a win-win partnership for durable peace in Myanmar with India and Thailand is possible, which could reconcile China’s “One Road, One Belt” strategy with New Delhi’s “Look East” policy.
Analysts say that China wants to quickly restore stability in Myanmar, which is central to the fulfillment of the its grand strategy of the developing the 21st century Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road Economic Belt, which aims to integrate the economies of Asia and Europe, anchored by China.
A strongly worded editorial in Global Times, the newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party of China (CPC), stressed that the Kokang people are not entitled to the rights that Chinese citizens exercise.
“The Kokang are an ethnic group of Myanmar, but as close as they are to Chinese, they are not citizens of the People's Republic of China.”
The write up follows an appeal in an open letter by Kokang leader Pheung Kya-shin for support from Chinese people all over the world, spurring speculation in sections of the western and social media that a situation similar to Crimea has developed along China’s border with Myanmar, following the refugee rush.
The editorial warned that that there “are no grounds for comparing Kokang to Crimea”, and those “who are stuck in such comparisons are either spouting nonsense, or have ulterior motives”. It added that, “China should play a role in fostering peace in northern Myanmar and persuading Myanmar government troops and ethnic armed forces to solve the problem through negotiations”.
Recognising Myanmar’s criticality to the fulfillment of “One Road, One Belt” strategy, another commentary, appearing earlier this month in the Global Times, advocated joint efforts by China, India and Thailand to restore win-win peace in Myanmar. “Some ethnic minorities in India and Thailand are related to those in Myanmar and the two countries used to shelter Myanmar refugees that have suffered from clashes and conflicts. Both share common interests with China in helping Myanmar keep stable,” says the article.
All three countries will benefit from stability in Myanmar, which can “become a hub that connects China, India and Thailand”.
Instead of a clash of interests, Myanmar can become a point of reconciliation between India’s “Look East” policy and China’s southward policy included in the “one Belt and One Road” strategy.
The commentary observed that, “It will be a significant move if China, India and Thailand can jointly work to push forward the ethnic reconciliation in Myanmar”. It added that that “in this process, a new negotiation mechanism can be set up for Asian peace and lay the foundations of the security landscape in the future.”