Closer ties between China and Burma could strengthen China’s strategic and economic Posture in the region and undermine ASEAN.
According to AP and Xinhua reports, Burmese President U Thein Sein concluded a three-day visit to Beijing last week for meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao during which the two leaders pledged to expand strategic and economic ties. President Thein Sein used the visit to secure increased economic investment as well as lobby for Beijing’s political support for Burma’s bid to chair ASEAN in 2014. Thein Sein also announced Burma’s support for the “One China Policy” and Chinese maritime access to the South China Sea.
China is Burma’s most important economic and political benefactor and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In recent years, China has significantly expanded its maritime presence in the South China Sea which has exacerbated existing tensions over territorial issues with ASEAN member states including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
While Burma depends disproportionately on China for substantial economic and political support, Beijing increasingly views robust ties with Burma as critical to its strategic objectives in Asia.
China Ups the Ante in South China Sea Dispute
Chinese vessels recently have been operating in an increasingly aggressive manner in the South China Sea and reportedly interfered recently with a Vietnamese-backed oil and gas exploration expedition in the area. Moreover, Beijing is seeking to expand its naval reach in the Indian Ocean and has invested heavily in the development of Burma’s ports on the Bay of Bengal to safeguard China’s access to energy supplies and transportation routes.
Burma’s strengthened ties to China are likely to aggravate an already strained relationship between Burma and the other ASEAN member states as the organization weighs Burma’s pending request to assume the chair in 2014.
President Thein Sein’s trip follows closely on the heels of a similar visit to China earlier this month by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani aimed at strengthening ties between Beijing and Islamabad.
Beijing continues a calculated diplomatic outreach effort to strengthen key partnerships in the region to secure vital economic resources as well as extend China’s regional and global influence. Both China and India compete for vital resources as well as markets for their economic goods and services. China considers its growing naval capabilities along with its close ties to Pakistan as well as Burma as providing a strategic advantage in the region to its main strategic competitor, India.
Carolyn Leddy held senior positions with the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council under the George W. Bush administration. She was a 2009-2010 Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi Ltd. International Affairs Fellow in Japan and Visiting Fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo.
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