Sino-Myanmar ties set for normal track

By Ge Hongliang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Global Times, April 13, 2016
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Right after Myanmar managed to form a new cabinet, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off a visit to Myanmar on Tuesday at the invitation of Aung San Suu Kyi, his Myanmese counterpart. He is the first foreign minister to visit Nay Pyi Taw after Myanmar's landmark political shift was sealed on March 30.

After President U Htin Kyaw of the National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed office on March 30, he soon named 18 cabinet ministers, including Suu Kyi.

At first, Suu Kyi was reported to have taken on four roles as minister of foreign affairs, education, electric power and energy, and running the president's office. She was even appointed to Myanmar's National Defense and Security Council, the highest authority in government.

On Monday, Htin Kyaw nominated two new candidates to replace Suu Kyi as minister of education and electric power and energy, but Suu Kyi has still taken charge of key government sectors.

With Suu Kyi holding the post of foreign minister, a new chapter of Myanmar's diplomacy will begin.

Myanmar had long been isolated from the international community. But its special geopolitical position makes it a focus of major power competition. In recent years, with the advancing of Myanmar's reform and opening-up, countries like the US and Japan position Myanmar at the forefront of their strategy against China.

The Obama administration deems Myanmar's reform a victory of its "peaceful evolution" approach. Japan, with an eye to expanding its clout in Myanmar, has continuously reinforced investments in the country's political and economic fields.

Therefore, the first challenge that the new NLD-led government is facing in foreign relations is the simmering major power competition in the country.

Prudently maintaining a subtle balance among big powers is a prominent feature in the diplomacy of the U Thein Sein government. It wasn't labeled "pro-Western." But it intentionally distanced itself from China while seeking a rapprochement with Western powers, giving rise to speculation among media, public opinion and academics.

Nowadays, as the NLD-led government has assumed office, Myanmar is no more a "special country" and national interests apparently are becoming the foundation of diplomacy. The NLD leadership has been fully aware of this point.

Based on some remarks and actions of Suu Kyi and the NLD, a turnaround in Myanmar's foreign policy is unlikely to occur.

The new government will take a balanced policy as most other Southeast Asian countries do when dealing with major power competition.

Undeniably, the chief issue confronting the new NLD-government is how to weave a network of stable major-power relations while maintaining a balanced diplomacy, of which the key is to handle the China-Myanmar bilateral relationship.

During Thein Sein's term, the China-Myanmar ties have shifted to a normal bilateral relationship.

It's impossible for Suu Kyi, now considered as a pragmatic politician, and the NLD, to dramatically switch the country's China policy.

As an important neighbor of Myanmar, China, for a long time, has been playing a significant role in the country's national development.

China is the biggest trading partner of Myanmar and a major investor. China is also of vital importance in the process of the country's national reconciliation.

Besides, practical remarks made by Suu Kyi when she talked about China and the welcome she received during her China visit last year indicate that there is hardly a bumpy road ahead for the bilateral ties.

Htin Kyaw has shared a similar stance with Suu Kyi on China. He has a strong interest in Chinese culture and economic development.

Nonetheless, confined by nationalist sentiments among the public, the new Myanmese government will still have misgivings in dealing with China.

Therefore, in order to alleviate the pressure of public opinion and create a favorable environment for friendly dialogue and cooperation, China needs to coordinate more with Myanmar's new government.

The author is a research fellow with the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.

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