Myanmar’s Military Junta and China: An Examination of Strengthening Relations
The Myanmar-China Connection: A Series of High-Level Visits
Myanmar’s Deputy Prime Minister, General Mya Tun Oo, who is also the Minister of Transport and Communications, recently made his way to Beijing. His trip was in response to an invitation from Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng to participate in the Global Sustainable Transport Forum. With this visit, Tun Oo becomes the ninth minister from the Myanmar military junta to visit China in recent weeks. These ministerial visits are strategically timed, occurring in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative next month.
Observers believe that the ministers from Myanmar’s junta are lobbying the Chinese government to extend an invitation to the junta’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing, to the event. However, since the coup in 2021, China’s President Xi Jinping has not welcomed Min Aung Hlaing, and it is unlikely that he will be invited despite the strengthening ties between Beijing and the junta.
Major Role Shifts within the Junta
Mya Tun Oo, a former Chief of the General Staff and military intelligence chief, was appointed defense minister following the coup in 2021 but was later transferred to the transport ministry. His recent visit to Beijing coincides with his assuming control of three of the regime’s crucial economic committees from Min Aung Hlaing’s right-hand man, Moe Myint Tun, presently under house arrest and being interrogated for corruption. It is worth noting that Tun Oo maintains close ties with former military dictator Than Shwe, known for his friendly relations with China.
Junta Ministers’ Visits and Their Implications
Prior to Tun Oo, eight junta ministers, two deputy ministers, the governor of Myanmar’s central bank, and a member of the junta-appointed Union Election Commission visited China. During their visits, they signed agreements and urged China to provide access to advanced nuclear technology. However, the specifics of what Tun Oo discussed at the Global Sustainable Transport Forum have not been reported by junta media.
China’s Role in the Myanmar Junta’s Power Dynamics
China’s relationship with the Myanmar military junta is complex and multifaceted. While Beijing has not officially welcomed junta leader Min Aung Hlaing following the coup, the frequent visits by junta ministers indicate an ongoing strengthening of ties. Moreover, the lobbying efforts for an invitation for Hlaing to the Belt and Road Initiative event next month suggest an attempt to solidify this relationship on a global stage.
Despite the apparent deepening relationship between China and the Myanmar junta, there remains a level of uncertainty. The shift of power within the junta, with Tun Oo assuming control of key economic committees, may impact future relations with China. Additionally, the undisclosed nature of discussions during these ministerial visits leaves room for speculation on the precise nature and future direction of the Myanmar-China relationship.
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