Myanmar: “New Playground” of Global Powers

On the April 10, 2021, at least 20 civilians lost their lives as a result of the Myanmar Army open fire on demonstrators protesting the “military coup” in Bago city.[1] Considering the recent history of Myanmar, military coups, dictatorial regimes and brutal violence are not regarded as extraordinary. Related to this, Myanmar plays a critical role in the power struggle of actors such as the USA, China, Russia, India and Japan in Southeast Asia. As a matter of fact, the “anti-coup” demonstrations that broke out after the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 and the “bloody intervention” of the military junta regime against the protesters signalize that the global power struggle in the region will deepen.

The harsh intervention of the military junta regime against the demonstrators in Myanmar, is dragging the country into an environment of “civil war” while makes it open to the influence of foreign powers. The intervention of the United Nations (UN) in Myanmar is on the agenda due to the increasing risk of “civil war” and the growing crisis environment. The number of people who lost their lives in the country has reached 600 after the Myanmar Army’s harsh suppression of the anti-coup protesters.[2] The Myanmar Army’s increasing violence against civilians paves the way for the “Vietnamization” of the country. In order to comprehend the recent events in Myanmar, it is necessary to put forward the geo-economic and geo-political power struggle of the global actors in the country.

Geo-Economic Struggle in Myanmar

Myanmar is a rich country primarily on oil and natural gas. It is the gateway of the Far East to Africa and Europe due to the fact that it has a coast to the Bay of Bengal. In addition, Myanmar plays a critical role in the Indochina Peninsula transportation corridors. In this context, investments of China, India and Japan in transportation, natural gas and transit transportation on Myanmar maintained. The economic competition of global actors in Myanmar is largely based on the following projects: “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor”, “Kaladan Multi-Way Transit Transport Project” in Japan-India Partnership, “Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor”, Vietnam, Cambodia The “Southern Economy Corridor” and the “East-West Economic Corridor” covering Thailand and Myanmar.

One of the strategic goals of the Beijing administration in the Indochina Peninsula is to reach the Bay of Bengal via Myanmar. This is also one of the core projects in China’s Belt-Road Project. China is investing for developing road and rail lines starting from Kunming city to Kyaukphyu and Yangon ports on Myanmar’s coastline. It aims to reach Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu Port, especially by road and rail. This is one of the land corridors in China’s Belt and Road Project. In addition, Beijing aims to transform Myanmar to a “strategic center” in the 21st Century Blue Economy Corridor extending to Europe.

Accordingly, China is building a “deep seaport” in the region, thus large ships can dock at Kyaukphyu Port. Under this project, China bought 70 percent of the port shares.[3] In short, China is trying to reach Kyaukphyu city of Myanmar through both land and sea routes. Because the Kyaukphyu region also has rich natural gas and oil reserves. The current China-Myanmar Oil and Gas Pipeline is one of Beijing’s most strategic investments in terms of energy security.

Another coastal city that China aims to reach through the land corridors in Myanmar is Yangon. China built the Open Sea Pilotage Station in Yangon, 2019, to facilitate trade in the blue economy corridor. On the other hand, investment opportunities in Myanmar’s Dawei Port are the subject of strategic competition between both China, Japan and India. Because Dawei, which is another important city of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal; also is the gateway to the “Southern Economic Corridor” covering Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar through the bay.

Japan shows the greatest interest in Dawei Port. Tokyo is currently building a deep seaport and trying to establish a free trade zone in the area. Japan sees Dawei as a “strategic center” in order to reach the Indian Ocean as quickly as possible. By this means, Japan aims to “bypass” both China and the Malacca Strait by using the Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand-Myanmar line. In this context, Japan and India are looking for ways of cooperation against China’s economic projects in Myanmar.

On the other side, due to the huge investments made by China within the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative, in the countries of the region, the USA lags behind of China in economic projects and foreign direct investments in the Indochina Peninsula. Therefore, the countries in the region want the USA to invest more in the region, unless China and Japan. In particular, India and Japan focus on economic cooperation projects with Russia and the USA in order to compete with China’s projects.

Geo-Politic Struggle in Myanmar

The military coup in Myanmar considered as a reflection of China’s power projection in the region according to many experts. On the other hand, the events in Myanmar were evaluated as the failure of the USA’s Chinese strategy. Indeed, the USA’s Indo-Pacific strategy is based on “liberating” the undemocratic regimes in the region and “transforming them compatible to the liberal economic system”.

In this context, the coups experienced around the region represent the most important breaks in the Indo-Pacific strategy of the USA. For example, Thailand, one of the Indochinese Peninsula countries, became an important military and political ally of the USA within the scope of the Asia Pivot strategy during the Barack Obama period. However, the Prayuth Chan-ocha administration, which came to power after the military coup in 2014, has to turn to China as an economic and political partner.

A similar situation is experienced in Myanmar for the USA now. After the Myanmar Army seized power on February 1, 2021, many officials, especially the country’s former leader and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Çii were detained and the country’s democratic achievements were suddenly destroyed. Thereupon, the United States sanctioned and blacklisted Myanmar Chief of General Staff Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Soe Win and other senior military officials. In addition, the USA suspended the trade agreement signed with Myanmar in 2013. All these developments have been interpreted as a major blow to the US against China in the geopolitics of the region. Accordingly, the USA is losing all fronts to China in South and Southeast Asia.

Similar concerns are shared by Russia and India. First of all, Russia is aware that China will gain a geo-strategic advantage in the region through the military coup in Myanmar. For this reason, Moscow administration seek for cooperation with the Central Asian countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Japan and other countries in the region, in response to the military-security actions in the immediate vicinity of China. This situation can be interpreted as Russia’s strategy to encircle China. On the other hand, both India and Japan have started to attach great importance to cooperation with Russia against the increasing “Chinese threat” in the region.

As a result, Myanmar is turning into a “new playground” for global powers due to; its rich hydrocarbon resources, its critical role in the economic corridors on the one side and the civil war country has dragged into with political instability environment on the other side.


[1] “Myanmar Ordusu Bago’da Protestoculara Ateş Açtı: 20 Ölü”, Anadolu Ajansı, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/myanmar-ordusu-bagoda-protestoculara-ates-acti-20-olu/2204088, (Date of Accession: 10.04.2021).

[2] “Myanmar’da Darbe Sonrası Şiddet Durmuyor: Ölü Sayısı 581’e Yükseldi”, TRT Haber, https://www.trthaber.com/haber/dunya/myanmarda-darbe-sonrasi-siddet-durmuyor-olu-sayisi-581e-yukseldi-570799.html, (Date of Accession: 07.04.2021).

[3] “Harbored Ambitions: How China’s Port Investments Are Strategically Reshaping The Indo-Pacific”, Raytodd, https://raytodd.blog/2018/04/18/harbored-ambitions-how-chinas-port-investments-are-strategically-reshaping-the-indo-pacific/, (Date of Accession: 07.04.2021).

You can send us your opinions, criticisms and any relevant information, documents, photographs, etc. regarding this study via the share button on the right.

MORE FROM THE AUTHOR

Cenk TAMER
Cenk TAMER
ANKASAM Ortadoğu Uzmanı

FOLLOW US

3,098FansLike
500FollowersFollow
3,183FollowersFollow
320SubscribersSubscribe