No reason for Nay Pyi Taw to back away from Beijing

By Bi Shihong Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-11 23:53:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Early results show that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has won a landslide victory in Myanmar's general elections. Myanmar, not surprisingly, will witness a landmark political shift. How the China-Myanmar relationship will develop after the elections is worth exploring.

Some argue that Nay Pyi Taw, if the NLD wins, will be motivated to go closer with the West and its relationship with Beijing will face huge challenges. However, this argument is not true for the status quo and the future of China-Myanmar relationship. Admittedly, while Myanmar took a pro-China stance when it was led by the junta, it has taken a neutral stance since U Thein Sein became president in 2011. This, rather than a regression, is a return to the nation's traditional neutral diplomatic strategies.

In fact, no matter which party is in office, it will not have a direct impact on its relationship with China. There is no motive for Nay Pyi Taw to turn hostile toward Beijing. Suu Kyi is a promoter of Myanmar's democratic process and a defender of the nation's core interests. She is neither a foe of China, nor a natural ally with the West.

Suu Kyi has made it clear that "Myanmar and China are neighbors, and neighbors cannot be selected. Developing a friendly bilateral relationship is of utmost importance."

The next Myanmese government, whoever in control, will establish closer ties with the West and meanwhile avoid distancing itself from China. Taking side with either the US or China will render Myanmar under huge risks of losing its just gained strategic space and resources.

There is no reason for Myanmese political parties, including the NLD, to become so extreme. The next government should focus its efforts on realizing economic prosperity and social development. In this regard, it is evident that the support from China will be helpful.

Since Myanmar shifted from its pro-China stance to a neutral stance in 2011, China has shown magnanimousness and kindness. China, following the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, understands the appeals of Myanmar people and has not blocked the nation's diplomatic choices.

It is fair to say that China's policy toward Myanmar is stable and can be tested by time. China takes an open attitude toward Myanmar developing its relations with Western countries such as the US and Japan. Meanwhile, building healthy relations with China also conforms to Myanmar's long-term interests. Myanmar, seeking maximum interests, will unlikely make any strategic sacrifice to court any other country.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang met Suu Kyi during her visit to Beijing in June. Xi called on Suu Kyi and her NLD to "continue to play a constructive role in guiding the Myanmar people regarding their view on China-Myanmar cooperation in an unbiased and rational way." Beijing is aware that Suu Kyi's appeal far exceeds that of other political leaders in Myanmar. Developing amicable ties with Suu Kyi will have positive effects on the China-Myanmar relationship. The visit to China was also an attempt of the NLD to stabilize the surrounding environment.

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that China welcomes Myanmar's elections and "supports Myanmar in pressing ahead with its political agenda in accordance with the law after the elections so as to realize national stability and long-term growth." Myanmar is an important partner of China in the "One Belt, One Road" initiative. This will not change after the elections.

For Myanmar's new government, taking advantage of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative to promote domestic economic restructuring is also an ideal choice. Currently, China is the largest trading partner and investor for Myanmar. The China-Myanmar trade volume in 2014 reached $25 billion, far greater than that between Myanmar and the US. The economic space for further cooperation is huge. China can also provide more support to Myanmar in infrastructure, education, agriculture and so forth. There are a number of reasons to believe that the China-Myanmar relationship will see improvement in the future.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies at Yunnan University.

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