From Traditional Paukphaw (Sibling) Relations to a Community with a Shared Future: Myanmar Ambassador to China

By Ambassador U Myo Thant Pe Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/7 19:08:40

From traditional paukphaw relations to a community with a shared future: myanmar ambassador to china

Ambassador U Myo Thant Pe Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of Myanmar in China

Myanmar and China are close and friendly neighbors linked by shared mountains and rivers. The two countries share a border of more than 2,000 kilometers and elevated bilateral relations and cooperation from time to time. People from both sides enjoy a time-honored friendship and have lived alongside each other for thousands of years. This has led to them referring to each other as "Paukphaw" (siblings) since ancient times. As there is a long border between the two countries, there is no doubt that people on both sides are of the same ethnic origin, use similar languages, dialects and have similar cultures. 

 Myanmar and China ties began in ancient times. According to historical evidence, as early as the 4th century BC there was a trade route linking China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces with Myanmar. In the heyday of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907) in the early 9th century, a troupe of dancers and musicians of Myanmar's Pyu Dynasty visited the capital of Chang'an (the Tang Dynasty capital known today as Xi'an). At that time, the Chinese people warmly welcomed the Myanmar artists and they enjoyed and admired the enchanting performances which they presented. 

 The very long history of coexistence and interaction between the two countries makes bilateral relations stronger. In the 12th century, Myanmar's Bagan Dynasty, The Venerable Shin Ditha Pamauk who was widely recognized as the first diplomat of Myanmar, arrived in Beijing and negotiations were successfully concluded with mutual respect and understanding between Myanmar and China. The relationship between Myanmar and China was trailblazing in other respects over many centuries. 

Early period of the establishment of diplomatic ties

 Seven decades ago, Myanmar and China ties reached another level on June 8, 1950 on which date they established diplomatic relations. Before official diplomatic ties, Myanmar recognized the People's Republic of China (PRC) after its founding in 1949, which made Myanmar the first non-Communist country to recognize the founding of the PRC. In the 1950s, the friendly and close relationship between the two countries has evolved and the term "Paukphaw" (siblings) was coined and popularized to manage the relations. In the 1950s and into the 1960s, the fundamental foundations were established for the bilateral relationship.

Following the establishment of diplomatic ties, close cooperation and significant development of relations have been witnessed in the areas of politics, economics, social interactions, culture, education and people-to-people exchanges. The bilateral trade negotiations and meetings initiated in 1950 also signed a reciprocal agreement on civil aviation between Myanmar and China. 

 In June 1954, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the joint Sino-Burmese declaration with Myanmar Prime Minister U Nu. The declaration endorsed the "Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence," which are basic norms and a cornerstone for international relations. Six years later, in 1960, China and Myanmar signed the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Non-Aggression, which stipulated that there should be lasting peace and close friendship. These were the significant milestones for the leaders from both sides.

While looking at the cultural communications in the 1950s and 1960s, Myanmar Prime Minister U Nu led a friendly delegation, consisting of more than 400 cultural, artistic and cinematic representatives, to China during the National Day celebration in 1960, and the "Myanmar Culture Week" was organized in Beijing. Reciprocally, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai led a delegation, consisting of more than 530 cultural, artistic and cinematic representatives to visit to Myanmar during the Independence Day celebration of Myanmar in January 1961, and a "China Film Week" was organized in Yangon.

The friendship between Myanmar and China is based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. With those fundamental spirits, it enabled the two countries to succeed in settling the boundary issues between the two countries, which was left over since ancient times. In 1960, Myanmar was the first country to sign a boundary treaty with China. From this achievement, it became an example for the settlement of the boundary issues between the neighboring countries of China. 

The high-level visits between the two countries are a hallmark of bilateral relations and go far beyond deepening political, cultural and economic ties between the two nations. During the seven decades, Chinese Chairman Liu Shaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai and Vice Premier Chen Yi visited Myanmar many times while Prime Minister U Nu, Prime Minister U Ba Swe, Chairman U Ne Win and other leaders of Myanmar also visited China several times. Premier Zhou Enlai visited Myanmar a record nine times and developed diplomatic relations for a new chapter. 

Maintaining the healthy relations

At a time of opening up in China in 1978, Myanmar and China continued developing a longstanding tradition of bilateral relations. In 1988, after a series of internal political transformations in Myanmar, China continued to support Myanmar with cordial affection and provided socio-economic development assistance. One of the attainments in 1988 between the two countries was the emergence of the border trade. 

 The beginning of the 21st century got off to a good start for the relationship between Myanmar and China. During the regime of the former government in 2011, the two sides elevated diplomatic ties to the level of a "Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership" with a view to expanding Myanmar-China relations and cooperation in an all-round way. 

Bilateral relations in the new democratic government

After the new government of Myanmar took office in March 2016, the continuing vitality of relations between leaders, political parties, parliaments, militaries and peoples of both sides has been enhanced by longstanding diplomacy exercised by leaders of both countries. 

 Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar as the first foreign guest of the new Myanmar government in April 2016 as a show of support. His visit to Myanmar after the new Myanmar government took office was a clear demonstration of the new chapter of friendship between the two countries. Both sides stressed that relations between the two countries will remain positive. This visit reflected goodwill toward the positive signals from both sides. 

The Myanmar government has been striving to foster friendly relations with all countries around the world in a balanced manner. The Myanmar government believes that bilateral relations with immediate neighbors should be prioritized more than relations with countries from faraway regions. As neighbors have to live side-by-side so long as the world exists, Myanmar pays special attention and exerts strenuous efforts to further consolidate the good neighborly relations with all neighbors based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. It has resulted in significant achievements in the consolidation of our relations with China.

Mutual support for each other's core interests

 The Chinese side firmly supports Myanmar in its aim to adopt a development path that is in line with its national conditions, the safeguarding of its legitimate rights and interests, as well as national dignity, on the international stage, and to maintain the momentum of development and stability. In a reciprocal manner, Myanmar firmly adheres to the one-China Policy, respects the "One Country, Two Systems" principle China has implemented in Hong Kong and Macao and supports the efforts of China to resolve the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, which are inalienable parts of China.

The Chinese side supports the efforts of the Myanmar side to advance the national reconciliation and peace process through political dialogue based on the spirit of the Panglong Conference and the efforts of Myanmar to address the humanitarian situation and to promote peace, stability and development for all communities in Rakhine State. The Chinese side reaffirms its willingness to provide further support, within its capacity, to Myanmar in the repatriation process and resettlement of displaced people from Rakhine State. 

As mentioned earlier, the high-level contact between Myanmar and China is a unique characteristic of the bilateral relations between the two countries. The then President U Htin Kyaw paid a State Visit to China in April 2017. He held bilateral talks with President Xi Jinping and met with Premier Li Keqiang, and Chairman Zhang Dejiang of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress separately. During the visit, a total of nine  MoUs, Agreements and Exchange of Letters were successfully inked.

 The relationship between Myanmar and China is intensified by personal diplomacy from the leaders of the two countries. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has visited China a record four times, which reflects the two countries' traditional friendship. An official visit to China in August 2016 was the first to a non-ASEAN country since she took office and it was also the first visit to China by a leader of Myanmar following the establishment of the new government, and thus it was of great significance to promoting China-Myanmar comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in the coming years.

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Photos: IC

The long-term bilateral economic relations of the friendly neighbors have laid a foundation for Myanmar to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative in the new era. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the 1st and 2nd Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation which were held in May 2017 and in April 2019. Embracing the Belt and Road Initiative with full support, Myanmar signed an MoU with China on Cooperation within the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative during the 1st BRF. With this commitment, Myanmar is ready to cooperate in the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. During the 1st BRF, both sides signed five  agreements, including an MoU on the establishment of a Myanmar-China Border Economic Cooperation Zone.

During the 2nd BRF, a total of three instruments were signed: Economic and Technical Cooperation, the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) Cooperation Plan (2019-2030) and a Five-Year Development Program for Economic and Trade Cooperation. These instruments will be the major driving forces in accelerating the momentum of our bilateral cooperation. Every visit definitely contributes to the consolidation of the bilateral friendship and the promotion of mutual benefit to the countries and peoples.

Elevating bilateral relations to a new level and a fresh impetus

At the beginning of this year, President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Myanmar from 17 to 18 January, 2020. It was the first Head of State-level visit from China to Myanmar in 19 years and it also coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of Myanmar-China diplomatic relations. The two sides reached a broad understanding through in-depth exchanges of views on consolidating the traditional bonds of friendship between Myanmar and China, promoting comprehensive strategic cooperation and building a Myanmar-China Community with a Shared Future based on the aims of mutual benefits, equality and win-win cooperation.

 With a total of 33 Agreements, MoUs and documents signed and exchanged during the visit, this state visit served as an impetus to further enhance bilateral ties and expand mutually beneficial multifaceted cooperation between Myanmar and China. In addition, China announced a pledge to provide 4 billion yuan ($565 million) worth of development assistance to Myanmar. China also reiterated its continued support for Myanmar's ongoing efforts for national reconciliation, the peace process and the repatriation and resettlement of displaced per persons from Rakhine State.

Accelerating the mutual cooperation

The state visit of President Xi Jinping to Myanmar brought a promotion of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. During the visit, Myanmar and China agreed to step up the Belt and Road cooperation, push the CMEC to transition from a concept into concrete development, and endeavor to promote the three pillars of the CMEC, namely the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone, Myanmar-China Border Economic Cooperation Zones, and new urban development of Yangon City as well as framework infrastructure projects of connectivity such as roads, railways, electric power and energy. 

Both sides also agreed on the need to acquire the trust, support and participation of local people when implementing projects, and reduce to the maximum the social and environmental impact experienced by local people.

The two sides will continue to bring into full play the role of inter-governmental mechanisms for practical cooperation: The Myanmar-China Joint Committee on Economic, Trade and Technical Cooperation and the Myanmar-China Agricultural Cooperation Committee. They will also continue to deepen concrete cooperation in fields such as economy and trade, agriculture, forestry, industrial capacity, investment and finance, aiming to complement each other with respective advantages, to promote common development for the benefit of both peoples and further increase existing successful cooperation through understanding.

 Regarding cultural ties between Myanmar and China, both sides agreed to designate the year 2020 as the "Myanmar-China Year of Culture and Tourism." On commemorating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, a series of joint celebrations is scheduled to be held across 2020 to strengthen social and people-to-people exchanges and cooperation in education, culture, tourism, religion and media and to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.

Bilateral economic relations 

The economic and trade cooperation between Myanmar and China has achieved substantial progress, and the cooperative fields expanded from trade and economic aid in the past to project contracting, investment and multilateral cooperation. Myanmar is one of the comprehensive strategic partnerships of China as well as one of the supporting countries of the Belt and Road Initiative. Since Myanmar and China signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement in 1971, two countries have been accelerating the momentum of opportunities and prospects for economic cooperation. 

China is an important trading partner of Myanmar. Bilateral trade volume continues to rise annually. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Commerce of Myanmar, the bilateral trade reached $11.4 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. China is also providing extensive aid and helping to develop industries and infrastructure in Myanmar and aims to be the chief beneficiary from cultivating Myanmar's extensive oil and natural gas reserves.

Very recently, Myanmar and China signed 33 bilateral cooperation documents including MOUs, agreements, exchange letters and protocols covering political, economic, trade, investment, humanities, local and other fields during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Myanmar on 17-18, January 2020. Out of those bilateral cooperation documents, seven cover bilateral economic ties.

Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai (L) hands over medical supplies donated by Chinese government to Dr. Zaw Than Htun, director-general of Medical Research Department under the Myanmar's Health and Sports Ministry, in Yangon, Myanmar, May 13, 2020. The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Xinhua/U Aung)

China is also one of the important sources of foreign investment in Myanmar and it stands among the top investors for our country. China contributes a large number of investments for our country. As of April 2020, the total Chinese investment inflow into Myanmar amounted to $21.29 billion. Chinese enterprises are mainly focused on the electric power, mining, oil and gas, manufacturing and telecommunication sectors.

China is the largest trading partner as well as one of the most important sources of investment for Myanmar. Bilateral economic cooperation has been accelerating the momentum of opportunities and prospects. However, we still need to find ways to strengthen bilateral economic relations more than ever. During the recent Chinese president's visit to Myanmar, the leaders also discussed increasing bilateral trade and accepting increased Myanmar exports into China's huge market. It is believed that further increasing bilateral trade and investment between us will truly contribute to the socioeconomic development of our people.

From Pauk-phaw friendship to a community with a shared future 

Throughout the 70-year journey of friendship between Myanmar and China, the relations between the two countries are bound to deepen further in the long term based on the Paukphaw friendship, mutual understanding and good neighborliness that already exists. The long history of friendship has further developed to a community with a shared future through the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. In order to reach this highest level of the relations, the following significances continue to be of key importance for both sides. 

 On top of that, people-to-people contacts have been the foundation of our close ties for hundreds of years. The friendship between Myanmar and China has been nurtured by our people, who bring the Paukphaw friendship between the two countries. Paukphaw relations can only be seen between Myanmar and China, which have a very profound meaning for the two countries. Paukphaw means born-together and brotherhood relations, which describes the uniqueness of our traditional friendship between Myanmar and China. Paukphaw relations between Myanmar and China have long existed as a foundation between the two countries to flourish and extend the special relations in the new era.

Most importantly, the bilateral ties between Myanmar and China are quite unlike the relationships with other countries since the two neighboring countries' friendship is basically formed from the geographical connection. It goes without saying that a neighboring country has no other choice but to stand together till to the end of the world. 

Another significant hallmark of the bilateral relations between the two countries is the exchange of high-level visits. From the exchange of the high-level visits, the friendship bonds and cooperation between the two countries and peoples have been cemented. The visits to China by the former President and the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi further enhanced our friendly relations and pushed our regional and international cooperation forward. The recent visit of President Xi Jinping to Myanmar in January 2020 achieved the momentum of our bilateral relations and enhanced all-round cooperation in many sectors. 

Along with that, the telephone conversations between the two leaders highlights the strength of the established relationship of both countries. The two dignitaries have the phone calls accordingly. During a recent phone conversation between the two leaders, they exchanged their views on the all-round cooperation and the current collaboration in combating COVID-19 between Myanmar and China as the two countries have stepped into the new era of building a community of a shared future. This conversation can be recognized as an extension of the hand of friendship each other during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Furthermore, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence provide the cornerstone of Myanmar-China relations, in which our founding fathers of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence courageously made the historic decision to introduce these principles which have now become basic norms and guiding principles in international relations. With the spirit of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, Myanmar and China have been uplifting the relationship and cooperation between the two countries to the level of a community with a shared future. 

Besides, it is much more than a symbolic occasion that Myanmar and China support each other in the international arena as both countries are of the view that national security is an issue of utmost importance for all sovereign countries. Myanmar always stands in support of the one-China Policy, which stands for the main interest of China and the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" while China firmly contributes toward the peace process, national reconciliation and development of Myanmar. Through this support for each other, goodwill and friendship between the two nations have gradually been consolidated more and more. 

While looking at the Belt and Road Initiative, it has been witnessed that it enables the bilateral friendship and cooperation to develop further. As the initiative is a great idea, the governments' actions on both sides will definitely benefit the people of both countries if both Myanmar and China adhere to the principles of consultation, contribution and shared benefits. Resulting from this, it will lead to the development of both countries and greater opportunities and benefits for the people of the two countries. 

Given our cultural similarities, traditional affinities and the long-lasting relationship between Myanmar and China, the development of good neighborly relations has contributed toward the fundamental interests of the two peoples and peace, stability and development of the region as a whole. As the continuous and consistent development of the two countries' relations is based on people-to-people contacts and cultural bonds, the idea of building a community with a shared future will bring new opportunities for mutual benefits to both peoples.

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