Fears are mounting that Myanmar’s political disruption may provide a window of opportunity for China to get closer to the Southeast Asian country, making security ties among democratic forces fragile.
Should the United States take a hardline posture against Myanmar’s military that seized power on Monday, it would prompt the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member to strengthen relations with the communist power.
China’s growing proximity to Myanmar could also undermine the “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept initiated by the United States and Japan, apparently designed to promote security cooperation of democratic countries to counter Beijing’s rising regional influence.
The international community “should work as one to protect Myanmar’s budding democracy,” but an “excessive response” to the military’s coup should be avoided, a diplomatic source said.
“If Myanmar takes sides with China, the free and open Indo-Pacific vision may be distorted,” the source said, adding, “The United States and Japan should deal with the current problem in a very careful manner.”
On Monday, Myanmar’s military staged a coup and detained the nation’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Later in the day, new U.S. President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, warned of re-imposing sanctions on Myanmar, calling the development a “direct assault” on the county’s transition to democracy.
Washington removed sanctions on Myanmar over the past decade based on progress toward democracy, but the reversal will “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities,” Biden said in a statement.
In contrast, China has refrained from condemning Myanmar’s latest military coup and calling for the release of Suu Kyi, only expressing hope that differences in the Southeast Asian country will be properly managed “under the constitutional and legal framework.”
The leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has traditionally tried to deepen ties with Myanmar in the economic and security fields, is believed to be gauging how the neighboring nation’s situation will unfold and be addressed globally.
“China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday.
“Any action by the international community should contribute to Myanmar’s political and social stability,” Wang said, urging other major powers not to resume sanctions on the Southeast Asian country.
Myanmar is located right on the path of China’s strategic plan to get direct access to the Indian Ocean as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” project for the development of infrastructure and trade across Asia, Europe and Africa.