China draws closer to Myanmar military junta

Kolkata, Jun 11 (IANS) | Publish Date: 6/11/2021 1:47:41 PM IST

 China seems to be on the verge of recognising Myanmar’s military regime, reversing its previous policy of choosing a side in the country’s ongoing political crisis.

On June 5, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and his Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin met Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai, after which the Chinese Embassy’s Facebook statement identified the senior general as the “Leader of Myanmar”. Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times also made the shift, referring to Min Aung Hlaing as the “Myanmar leader” in an article on Sunday.

The comment section of the post was hit by avalanche of angry messages from Myanmar users, most of whom described Min Aung Hlaing as “democracy-killer” and “power-grabber”. “Utterly disgusting to see. CCP is trying hard to legitimise terrorist leader Ming Aung Hlaing for their business interests,” wrote one user.

Wunna Maung Lwin then subsequently attended a special ASEAN-China Foreign Minister’s meeting in Chongqing, where he also took part in a Mekong-Lancang Cooperation meeting and had a one-on-one informal rendezvous with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM) newspaper said the two discussed the “advancement of the existing Pauk Phaw relations” and the “implementation of Myanmar-China bilateral projects”, lending more strength to the idea that the junta may have agreed to speed up Chinese development projects in Myanmar in exchange for political support. Most of the 15 new mega-infrastructure projects cleared by the military junta are Chinese.

“They also discussed for closer collaboration between the two countries in both regional and multilateral contexts, particularly the ASEAN and the US,” the GNLM article says in a likely reference to China shielding Myanmar from any international consequences or pressure due to the coup.

Hammering the point home, GNLM said the two ministers discussed ASEAN’s role in resolving the “political developments” in Myanmar, with an emphasis on “non-interference”.

Meanwhile, Wang assured his counterpart that China will always support Myanmar in choosing its own developmental path and friendly relations between the two countries have not been affected by recent developments.

“Of course, Myanmar did not choose this path – a handful of generals did at the expense of millions, who have emphatically rejected military rule,” said a spokesperson of the Myanmar’s exile National Unity Government (NUG).

During the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation meeting with other foreign ministers from the Mekong region, the bloc approved 22 projects worth $8 million to be implemented in Myanmar, according to state media.

It’s not immediately clear if these are the same 22 projects already agreed to in 2020, for which China pledged $6.7 million in funding.

“The Chinese government should take note that the State Administrative Council established by Min Aung Hlaing does not represent the people of Myanmar, and that efforts to legitimize it as the government of Myanmar risk undermining people to people relations between the two countries,” the NUG warned in a statement.

Emboldened by Chinese support and ASEAN engagement, the military junta hit deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi with a corruption charge on Wednesday, taking her number of alleged offences to seven.

The only real surprise though is that it took so long for the charge to be announced, given the junta began pushing this corruption narrative back in March.

Suu Kyi has been charged under section 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law over allegations that she took bribes and rented state land at reduced prices in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw for the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity organisation set up in the name of her mother.

She faces up to 15 years in prison, which is basically a formality at this point given the other six charges levelled against the 75-year-old would easily see her put away for the rest of her life anyway.

Deposed Nay Pyi Taw Council Chairman Myo Aung, his deputy Ye Min Oo, and Nay Pyi Taw Development Committee member Min Thu were also charged under section 55.

They all stand accused of facilitating Suu Kyi’s alleged transgressions.

Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and Myo Aung all appeared in court on Monday to discuss case management in a separate hearing for five charges against the state counsellor.

The judge ruled that the hearings should be completed within 180 days because they are “simple cases”.

To most, they are simple in the sense that they are obviously politically motivated and should be dismissed immediately, but we suspect the junta-controlled courts won’t feel the same way.

In any event, it seems the process will now speed up, with hearings expected to be held twice a week, on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On June 14, the court will begin to hear from the plaintiff in the case against Suu Kyi, Win Myint and Myo Aung.

It seems the 180-day period starts from some time in February, as her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said the prosecution will present its last arguments by June 28, while the defence must present by June 26.

As a reminder, Suu Kyi is facing a charge under section 67 of the Telecommunications Law (for possession and use of walkie-talkies without a licence); one charge under the Import and Export Law (for illegally importing walkie-talkies); two charges under section 25 of Natural Disaster Management Law (for allegedly violating election campaign rules); and one incitement charge under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code.

A more serious charge (alongside the new corruption charge) under section 3(1)(c) of the Official Secrets Act is being heard separately at the Supreme Court, with a hearing scheduled for June 23.

“The charges against the elected leaders reflects the new found confidence of the military junta and all because they have strong Chinese support . India should immediately discontinue all support for the junta because Delhi gains nothing by backing a Chinese lackey,” said Mrinal Chakma, a former fellow at Kolkata’s Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies who has followed Myanmar and visited the country often.

Chakma, who has close links to Buddhist clergy across Southeast Asia, said the “God-fearing Burmese Buddhist looks up to India for moral leadership at this critical juncture, as do other ethnic minorities”.


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