Index > Briefing
Thursday, April 01, 2021
How the Worst-Case Scenarios in Myanmar could Affect China

As Myanmar is a close neighbor of China, it is a crucial link that connects China to the Indian Ocean, which unquestionably has extremely significant geopolitical significance for China. However, the recent deterioration of the situation in Myanmar has not only attracted the attention and sanctions of the international community, which not only worsens the state of affairs for Myanmar, but also brought about substantial geopolitical challenges for China.

Since Myanmar’s junta coup on the 1st of February, demonstrators have demanded for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the restoration of the democratically elected government. The junta government however has responded by continuously suppressing large-scale protests by using tear gas, rubber bullets, shooting and other means to disperse the assemblies. According to local human rights activists, so far more than 2,600 demonstrators have been arrested and nearly 420 people have been killed.

The deteriorating situation in Myanmar has triggered condemnation and sanctions from many Western countries. On the 26th of February this year, the United Kingdom announced new sanctions against Myanmar generals and stated that British companies should not conduct business with companies that are associated with the Myanmar junta. On the 28th of March, the military leaders of 12 countries including the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand issued a joint statement condemning the junta on March 27 concerning violence against civilians. The military leaders of these 12 countries pointed out that the Myanmar junta have lost the respect and trust of the people because of its actions. They urged the Myanmar military to stop the violence and work to gain the respect and trust of the Myanmar people.

On the 31st of March, the UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting regarding Myanmar. According to Reuters, UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener warned at the meeting that the Myanmar junta is increasing the pressure on the demonstrators and that a “bloodbath” is imminent. Burgener stated that the military which seized power in Myanmar is not capable of managing the country and the situation on the ground will only worsen day by day. He suggested that the UN Security Council must consider all available means and take major actions to help the people of Myanmar in order to prevent disasters in the heart of Asia. Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to the United Nations, said that the violence of the Myanmar junta is totally unacceptable, and that the international community needs to send a strong message in response and that the Security Council must play a role in international response.

However, the analysis by the geopolitical team at ANBOUND believes that the United Nations and the international community are only able to take very limited measures, including embargoes and cessation of trade, which have very limited impact and cannot prevent the further deterioration of the situation in Myanmar. Myanmar is also a country that is not very well developed and as such is not a major trading country in the world's supply chain, so the suspension of economic and trade exchanges will have minimal impact on it. If the situation in Myanmar deteriorates further and a “bloodbath” does take place as described by the UN special envoy, then it cannot be ruled out that Western countries may take key actions based on Myanmar's geopolitical position rather than to stop the "bloodbath". ANBOUND’s founder Chan Kung pointed out more than 10 years ago, Myanmar's geopolitical position was crucial to China, and that it was China's strategic link to the Indian Ocean. In the face of unstable Myanmar-China relations, China should be wary of Myanmar becoming the "second North Korea", which could turn against China when its relationship with China fluctuates (2010). China should not only pay attention to economic investments in Myanmar, but also political investments (2012), ensuring the stability of Myanmar from a geopolitical perspective. It is quite likely that policy officials and geopolitical scholars in the West also understand this geo-importance and may seize strategic opportunities while Myanmar is in a turbulent state.

What then, are the key actions that the West will take? Possible actions include dispatching naval and air forces as well as cruise missiles to attack the main targets of the Myanmar military, including government buildings, military bases, police headquarters, military facilities, communication facilities, military airports, etc. This will cause the junta to lose part of its ability to control the society, and allows the West to win the support of the Myanmar people. With the current extent of Myanmar’s military capabilities, Western countries who choose to do so will hardly suffer any major losses. As for the next step, if a small number of troops from Western countries land in Myanmar in the name of humanitarianism, they might establish a "safe zone" to maintain their military presence for an extended period of time, which could possibly cause China to lose its influence in Myanmar. It should be pointed out that China has an extremely important China-Myanmar Oil and Gas Pipeline strategic asset in Myanmar. If Western countries maintain military control in Myanmar, this will pose as a potential threat to China's oil security.

What is particularly dangerous for China is that if Western countries decide to jointly take such actions, it is entirely possible that India will also participate. This is not only expected by the countries that are vigorously promoting the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" and the "Quad Security Dialogue", but India may voluntarily participate on its own, as it is in line with its long-term Look East strategy. If all this does come to pass, then the entire southwestern wing of China will face considerable risks, making it is basically impossible for China to make any major geopolitical moves in the world. It should also be pointed out that if China completely loses its influence on Myanmar, the Taiwan Strait issue will also be completely lost. In fact, once this situation is formed, the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy will undoubtedly be an unprecedented and substantial success.

Follow-up studies conducted by ANBOUND show that the situation in Myanmar is still deteriorating. On the 30th of March, the U.S. State Department has ordered the authorization to evacuate non-essential diplomats and their families from Myanmar. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stated on March 31 that the government is making relevant preparations for the evacuation of its citizens from Myanmar where bloodshed and suppression occurred recently and is considering further sanctions against the Myanmar junta. If the evacuation plan is finalized, most of the Korean nationals can leave within 24 hours. Evacuation of overseas nationals is often of special significance in geopolitical events; hence it can be seen that the development of events in Myanmar is slipping into the worst possible situation. This situation will not only affect Myanmar’s domestic society and people’s livelihood, but also have a great impact on China.

Final analysis conclusion:

The situation in Myanmar is deteriorating. If a huge humanitarian disaster breaks out in Myanmar, Western countries could possibly take key measures, including military means, to assault the Myanmar junta and maintain a military presence in the country. This will pose a great threat to China's geopolitical interests and may also affect the Taiwan Strait issue. It is now a key time window for China to consider risk scenarios and the corresponding response strategies, as well as make the appropriate resource preparations.

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