China’s Troubled Myanmar Policy
Image Credit: REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

China’s Troubled Myanmar Policy


Over the years, China has expended considerable effort to improve its neighborhood relations, with the goal of maintaining stable borders and a viable trading environment. In so doing it has undertaken significant diplomatic efforts in maintaining networks among governments and governing elites. As time passes, one of the main shortcomings of this policy approach is becoming evident: China is increasingly finding itself at odds with non-governmental actors. Myanmar is a case study.

China’s interests and investments in ethnic areas of Myanmar, and Kachin State in particular, are increasingly touching on fundamental questions of political self-determination and with it national conciliation. The issue of disposition over land and resources is a matter of a constitutional process, something that Chinese actors seem to ignore.

In dealing with issues concerning Kachin State, a larger pattern of uncoordinated actors and self-serving interference has become evident. Until the transition from the Tatmadaw to civilian rule and the gradual lifting of international sanctions, China almost had carte blanche in its dealings with Myanmar. Deals with the elite did not go unnoticed but had no serious repercussions either inside or outside the country. Now, however, with an evolving civil society and greater prominence of inter-ethnic reconciliation on the national agenda, China’s operations have come under increasing scrutiny.

Officially, China has in the past described its interests in Myanmar as stability, border security, security of its investments, and connecting landlocked Yunnan Province to neighboring markets. In pursuing these interests, however, it has become difficult for Beijing to cover up its shortcomings and deal with increasingly negative perceptions across Myanmar society.

Beijing is being forced to realize that its focus on strictly inter-governmental relations, taking a revisionist stance on the 1947 Panglong agreement on a diplomatic level, while ignoring the needs and interests of ethnic nationalities, no longer serves its interest. Halfhearted engagements at the local level and poor crisis management have added to the widespread perception that China is solely concerned about the security of its business operations. In view of ethnic groups having potentially a greater impact on government policies and with existing investments at stake, China’s approach has become more ambiguous with respect to its intentions and stance towards domestic issues in Myanmar.

In Kachin State, two Chinese investments with diplomatic relevance had been at stake: the Myitsone confluence hydroelectric power plant project and the Sino-Burma pipelines owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). In both projects Chinese SOEs by and large lacked long-term vision and ignored the investment environment. Myanmar so far lacks a system that would provide titles for land. Companies such as CNPC and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) took profit from facile resettlement processes. However, they failed to provide sufficient compensation to enable those displaced to rebuild their livelihoods.

Unlike the pipeline project, the newly formed civilian government suspended the Myitsone Dam construction. The confluence area remained a restricted zone. According to local sources, Chinese companies were using the area for gold mining. As in other places, Chinese companies were able to bring in heavy machinery, thereby putting local extraction enterprises out of business. Mining agents cause major environmental degradation, polluting water sources and are becoming a public health issue.

Charm offensives on the part of Chinese SOEs and agencies to redress negative perceptions among the local population, with the ultimate goal of resuming the project under the next presidency, might backfire and achieve the opposite result. CPI negotiators tried to offer greater incentives by better providing for local needs. Yet, the devil is in the details, and the idea that China is playing a double game is already deeply ingrained in perceptions on the ground. To make a difference, China would have to show sincere interest in developments on the ground and understand the changing political context of its engagements.

Kim's Uncle
August 30, 2013 at 14:57

"You can pretend to be American but I know you are Vietnamese". 


Dude, you make me laugh!  You're a mainland Chinese guy telling others who is and who isn't an American?  LOL.  Is this how Chinese mainlander argue and debate?  Making irrelevant PERSONAL comments about a person race, ethnicity, or religion?  So it is Vietnamese this week?  How about Filipino?  I've been call an Indian, and a Japanese, what next?  

Try to get out of Chinatown sometime!  The world is quite different from Chinatown!  

August 30, 2013 at 09:43

hey cdk,


Did you see Vietnam claimed Cambodia as its own as china did with Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang? Did you see any country on Earth be that stupid and greedy? Oh, before you open your mouth with "historic evidences", let see if china dare to claim the 600 thousands square kilometers of land that Russia took from china by force, eh?

August 29, 2013 at 11:38

It is not my responsility to provide counter information to flaw claim without source basis. The person making the accusation is responsible for providing source and evidence. Then I would counter my response with source. That is how argument goes.

Soy S.A.U.C.E
August 28, 2013 at 21:33

Why don't you provide informations to dispute it?

August 28, 2013 at 20:15

@Little Helmsman – Don't kid yourself with that notion that you are a true American. In America, they add your racial background next to the word "American". So for instance, if you are Indian, they call you Indian American. Likewise if you are Mexican, they call you Latino American. They don't do this to white immigrant of European descent. Therefore if you are Irish or Jewish, people would recognize and call you simply as an "American" without racial prefix.

@ Li Na – This is the 21st Century, we need source. Source with the spelling S.O.U.R.C.E. Say it with me, SOURCE!

Li Na
August 28, 2013 at 10:39

Zhou Bin (and his wife) the son of former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang also known to be a US CITIZEN.

Wen Jia Bao's daughter and grand duaghter is a Canadian or US Citizen

74.5% of Chinese Communist Party minister-level officials have sons or daughters who are U.S. citizens or hold U.S. green cards, and 91% of them have grand children who are U.S. citizens.

Why does those CCP keep send theirs kid to the SATAN USA for? Why not send their kids to Senkaku Island instead? 

Li Na
August 28, 2013 at 09:37

China should repaid 40 billion dollars that Japan donated in the last few decade too.

Little Helmsman
August 28, 2013 at 02:56


In America, we have many people from different ethnic background.  It is known as a nation of immigrants.  Why is it so hard for Chinese people to understand this?  We even have Americans of Chinese descent?  In America, we have Jews, gentiles, Muslims, Irish, Germans, Polishs, Czechs, Nisei, Mexicans……etc…   I think you need to study the history of America more to understand.  Chinese people are not the brightest when it comes to the history of other countries.  

Henry Kissinger = German Jew immigrated in the 30s

Madeleine Albright = Czech descent, her father Czech diplomat and professor

Colin Powell = from Jamaican ancestry

Steve Jobs = Father was of Syrian descent

Andrew Carnegie = Scottish ancestry, immigrated as a child

Alexander Hamilton = West Indies

Marco Rubio = born in America, parents came from Cuba

Ted Cruz = Father was of Cuban heritage

Jerry Yang = Taiwanese heritage

Jeremy Lin = Taiwanese heritage

Why else do you think people continue to come to the US?  It is an accepting society.  No other place on earth.  Now compare that to China where Tibetans are burning themselves because they don't want to be part of China.  Uighurs, Mongolians too! 

August 27, 2013 at 17:00

You can pretend to be American but I know you are Vietnamese. If you are American, you would know that American involvement with Khmer Rouge is substantial. USA was one of its biggest supporter and a key factor in their rise to power.

Kim's Uncle
August 27, 2013 at 08:49


Are you ok?  you sound angry?  I'm not a commie so I'm not from Vietnam.  I'm from the US!  Commie Vietnam and China were allies remember?  Just as Commie China and Khmer Rouge were allies.  Remember the good old days when Pol Pot used to go to Peking and toast with Zhou En Lai and Mao?  Remember when Sihanouk was making broadcast in Beijing exhorting the Khmer Rouge.  Yes, it is very true that China was the only backer and supplier of Khmer Rouge during the murderous years of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 to 1978.  That's the reason why no one really trust China.  

Actually, I do not care if two or three commies slug it out or go to war with each other.  It is no concern to me.  I just find it amusing Commie Vietnam going to war against their comrades Khmer Rouge.  And Commie China going to war with Commie Vietnam.  Not to mention the USSR versus Red China too.  It gets so confusing!  So amusing how commies fight like mad dogs against each other.  I don't see Japan or South Korea ever taking a hostile action against the US but I sure find it funny the backstabbing that goes on against one commie versus the other.  

August 26, 2013 at 23:38

@cdk. Do you personally take back the aid you give to someone. Keep in mind aid are non refundable. I think you are greedy with your look,view and thought.

August 26, 2013 at 22:56

No right to indulge in one own mother's land whatsoever.

August 26, 2013 at 20:41

Oh another loudmouth Vietnamese trying to invading Cambodia and reign supreme in Southeast Asia. Little do you know, the USA and UK support Khmer Rouge, with CHINA to stop the advancement and collision of Vietnam-Soviet during the Cold War.

August 26, 2013 at 17:19

What? I explain to you how difficult it is to do business in Burma. And no, we did not control Burma. Ask your Junta and the current democratic govt that question. We did not support brutal military regime. In fact, we don't care or have any preference on what system you are running as long as you want to do business. It is in our policy to not intefere in other country political system. It was evidence by the fact we do business with other country, ranging from dictatorship to democratic government in the West. There are relatively few recent Chinese migrating to Burma compared to the flood of Burmese moving in to China's Yunnan province. What civilization is superior to other? Your country is already corrupt before we even put a foot on your land. It is not our responsiblity that your government is backward and corrupt. Pollution is part of initial development process; otherwise, your country will never modernized. If we are not welcome, tell your government to kick us out. We will immediately respond and let see which country suffer more.

You are lying. Recent statistics showed many Chinese are moving back to China. I was one of them initially study in US.

August 26, 2013 at 17:06

@Argus – Please do a little research yourself first.

Myanmar Export & Import

Export: China 16.34%, Thailand 45.86%, Japan 4.81%

Import: China 65.22%, Thailand 5.55%, Japan 4.81%


China 81.56%

Thailand 51.41%

Japan 11.61%

Thailand + Japan 63.02% vs China 81.56%

Kim's Uncle
August 26, 2013 at 14:09

It seems Chinese do not know this but they are their worse own enemy because of the bad reputation China has throughout the developing world, especially in Asia.  People will get tired of their antics.  People should remembered the last time China bankrolled a wicked regime the Khmer Rouge.  China is trying so hard to cover up its misdeeds of being the only backer of the genocidal Khmer Rouge during its murderous reign from 1975 to 1978.  Without China continuous aid by providing weapons and supplies, the Khmer Rouge would not have rule uninterrupted for 3 years.  Over a quarter of Cambodians perished because of China's support of a brutal regime.  That's part of China's contribution to Asia.  

August 26, 2013 at 05:09

cdk, if you do just a little research, you'll find out that you're wrong. The combined trade of Thailand and Japan with Myanmar is higher than China's trade, so obviously other countries are trading with Myanmar specifically.  

August 26, 2013 at 01:45

You didn't answer my questions.

Why si China so desperate about controlling Burma? Why did they support the brutal military regime? Why are they arming the Wa rebels?  Why are there so many Chinese moving into Burma? Why do they think their civilisation is so superior to others? Why is China exporting (or outsourcing)  their pollution and corruption to neighbouring countries? Why can't they leave Burma alone if they know that they are not welcome?

By the way, speaking of "help": I live in North America and I see Chinese almost everyday and many of them (students at Universities etc.) tell me openly that they don't want to go back to China because of pollution and corruption in the Communist party. They try really hard to stay here. It's not just Guagua Bo and the rich princeling children. I actually "helped" a number of them. Perhaps I should have told them to go back to China and live the stupid Chinese Dream.

August 25, 2013 at 23:17

What is your nationality and who give you to right to dictate what we can and cannot do?

August 25, 2013 at 20:45

China can just simple get out of Burma, Africa, Tibet etc. Only those corrupted officials or war lords  need you guys there.

Get out befor being pushout. Get it?

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