Russian Sinologist Nikolai Vavilov analyzes the situation in Myanmar in the context of the US-China confrontation.
What’s going on in Myanmar? Most recently, the opposition of Myanmar, which is now fiercely fighting the military government that has seized power, announced that China has begun to send troops into the border regions of the country. Whether this is true is unclear, but it is clear that China supports the current military leadership of Myanmar. Perhaps here, oddly enough, the role of the Russian Federation will become the key. As one know, recently the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation visited Myanmar, and the Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation attended the military parade in Myanmar, becoming the highest-ranking guest at this parade.
It would seem that Myanmar is very far from the Russian Federation, but this 50-million-strong state in East Asia is very important for the geopolitics of China, and signals to us what processes are taking place, what course China has taken and where the next confrontation between China and the West may occur.
The latest events in Alaska, the scandal in relations between China and the United States show that there is no China-US big two built in the past, the pressure on China is enormous, and even if we compare it with the Russian Federation, China is in a much worse position. We see that the situation in Taiwan is aggravating, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is aggravating, the United States accuses China of violating the autonomy of Hong Kong, the Tibetan issue is being raised, as well as the Uyghur issue — de facto China is from all sides, with the exception of the Russian Federation, surrounded by either hostile states or potential threats of conflict.
And now a new such conflict — on the border with Myanmar. So let’s see if China, as accused by the Myanmar opposition, really organized a coup, or this is not entirely true.
If we look at the actions of the Chinese authorities, the real situation in the Myanmar-Chinese relations looks exactly the opposite. In January last year, on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, on the eve of events in Wuhan, Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Myanmar for the first time in 19 years. There was a very long break in diplomatic relations, Xi Jinping violated it and — attention — met with the head of the Myanmar opposition Aung San Suu Kyi. This woman is a well-known human rights activist, a well-known liberal politician who has worked closely with the United States for a long time. We see that Beijing saw no obstacles in cooperation with this politician. Moreover, Xi Jinping did not just visit Myanmar, but the leaders of the two countries signed more than 30 agreements on including Myanmar in the Chinese One Belt — One Road project, on the construction of a hydroelectric power station, infrastructure construction, and so on.
I.e. it is obvious that the real situation is quite the opposite — China was interested in Myanmar as a strategic partner; moreover, for China, Myanmar is primarily an alternative channel for access to hydrocarbons. In 2013, an oil and gas pipeline was built and put into operation through Myanmar. I.e. in fact, Myanmar is one of the few alternative channels for the supply of hydrocarbons through the Indian Ocean and from the Persian Gulf in the event of an oil blockade, which the United States and its allies may declare to China in the event of a major conflict situation, for example, the reunification of China with Taiwan. In the event of an offshore oil blockade, Myanmar becomes one of the corridors for relatively safe access of oil products to China, not counting oil from the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states.
The blow to Myanmar lies in a series of events such as the blocking of the Suez Canal etc. Those forces that provoked civil instability in Myanmar may have given the Myanmar opposition the understanding that the moment has come for decisive action, provoking the military. In geopolitical terms, this means a warning to China about a possible blockade of oil exports, and the statements that China has begun sending its troops [to Myanmar] are not accidental.
The fact is that the Myanmar opposition calls the defense of the oil and gas pipelines that go through Myanmar to the Chinese province of Yunnan and then reach the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as the reason for China to introduce its troops. It is no coincidence that the conclusion of the Sino-Iranian 25-year agreement on cooperation for the purchase of oil is among the events. A significant part of the oil that went through the Myanmar oil pipeline was from Iran. It was also no coincidence that Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met last year near the Myanmar border in anticipation of the conclusion of this deal.
Obviously, the Iranian events and the events in Myanmar are linked, as is the blocking of the Suez Canal. All this is connected by some kind of common logic. China is shown that, in fact, its stability, its ability to defend itself and its economy — China’s economy imports 75% of all world oil, [since] China produces its own oil in insufficient quantities — is questionable.
Thus, it is clear that China was not interested in destabilizing Myanmar, and is also interested in the fact that a new civil war does not start there now. Moreover, it is very important [for China] that the UN does not interfere in this situation. The UN attaches great importance to this situation. Official UN statements follow one after another, now 600 victims have already been declared, including children, women, who suffered during the clashes between the authorities and the opposition. The opposition claims that the majority of the country’s residents do not support the new Myanmar regime, which consists of the military, and claims that 70% of officials, medical staff, etc. do not support the government.
Against this background, the authorities of the Myanmar state of Rakhine, bordering Bangladesh and occupying the coast of the Indian Ocean, also openly announced their opposition to the central military regime. If we look at the map, then this particular area could become the site of a UN operation should such an operation start, and Myanmar could become one of the proving grounds for those hybrid wars that are brewing — attention — along the entire perimeter of China. Even in Mongolia, the [COVID] pandemic has changed the regime, and now Mongolia, located on the border with China, is led by a man who studied at Harvard and is closely associated with global forces. Myanmar could become one of the training grounds for such forces.
It is no coincidence that Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a meeting of five foreign ministers of the countries of Southeast Asia — Singapore, the Philippines and other states. The meeting was held at a very high level. The main topic of the meeting was an attempt to resolve the situation [in Myanmar] by the forces of ASEAN countries, i.e. preventing the escalation of this conflict and giving it the category of international, global and preventing the invasion of the UN forces. Naturally, the bulk of the UN forces, in the event of their invasion, will be Americans, of course there will be Indians, there will be Japanese, there will most likely be Vietnamese, and by and large the contingent of [the UN] peacekeeping forces [in Myanmar], as it was in the case of the Korean War, will be a hidden confrontation forces of the West and the Chinese.
China will also be forced to send troops to Myanmar, and not only because of the oil pipelines, and this confrontation [with the West] can lead to the death of a large number of civilians, since the world tends to underestimate the population of Myanmar, it is not a well-known country, the myth is blown up in the world that there is an authoritarian government, and of course the consequences of such an invasion of the UN and a retaliatory invasion of the Chinese troops from the North will be colossal.
The second point about Myanmar in terms of the economy and influence of China is that Myanmar is one of the most important places for the extraction of rare earth metals. According to various estimates, Myanmar accounts for up to 12.5% of the world’s reserves of rare earth metals and their production. As one know, China accounts for 70% to 90%, China is a center for the extraction of rare earth metals. What are these metals? This is all modern technology, from iPhones to precision weapons. These are metals of the future, metals of technology, and de facto China controls these exports completely, there is also information that the mining of rare earth metals in Myanmar is also controlled by China. Thus, the loss of Myanmar will mean for China not only the loss of access to an alternative safe supply of hydrocarbons, but also the loss of a significant part of the share in the extraction of rare earth metals.
In this situation, the outbreak of COVID in China is very surprising. There have been zero statistics for several months, with the exception of a few days and several cities, in general, zero cases of COVID. Therefore, a very big surprise is caused by an outbreak of COVID precisely on the border with Myanmar. Oddly enough, the outbreak occurred in the city of Ruili, located in close proximity to the [Myanmar] city of Musé, where Chinese troops are said to have invaded. There is a blockage of the city due to 26 cases [of COVID], the entire city is cordoned off, naturally this makes it difficult to transport the military, deploy the military, etc.
In November-January 2020-2021, authorities changed in the Chinese province of Yunnan. The former mayor of the already well-known city of Wuhan, Wang Yubo, became the first secretary of the regional committee of the provincial party committee of Yunnan province. This is a man who started his career as the head of the district committee of the Komsomol of Qinghai province. I.e. it was in January, before the crisis — a change of government in Myanmar — occurred on February 1, in the neighboring province of Yunnan, which depends on gas and oil exports and has other ties with Myanmar, that the government changed to a systemic opposition. Those Komsomol groups that I have repeatedly spoken about and which are described in detail in this book, pro-American groups loyal to the US Democratic Party, occupied Yunnan and then, as by coincidence, traffic was blocked on the road from Ruili to the city of Musé.
Yunnan Province is the location of the so-called golden triangle — drug production, local gang groups that were covered by the local authorities of Yunnan — all this ceased to exist after Xi Jinping came to power. There was a clean-up of drug trafficking, production of anarcotics. In addition, Yunnan is also known for having some support for Uighur Muslim terrorist groups here, which is why Yunnan is notorious for being the site of very large terrorist attacks, with a large number of deaths.
All this was stopped under Xi Jinping, but in Yunnan, after Biden came to power, the local government changes again and these events [on the border with Myanmar] take place. It is obvious that the United States will act in relation to China by analogy with Japan [during WWII], and on the eve of any major confrontation an oil or hydrocarbon embargo will be adopted, which is what we see now. The events in Myanmar are a special case of this.
It is very interesting what role Russia can play in Myanmar. This is the natural role of the third force that Russia can play in all regions of Eurasia amid the growing confrontation between China and the West. We see it in Iran, we see it in Myanmar. The military men of Myanmar, in fact, having arrested the entire «democratic opposition», found themselves in a very difficult situation. The West rejected them and they were left face to face with big China. This is the very case when the greatness of China, its strength, acts against it. Greater China — no one is waiting for it, everyone is afraid of it, China’s soft power does not work, and the fact that the Myanmar military ended up in the hands of the Chinese authorities, in great dependence on China, made them frantically search for a third force that does not belong to the West, nor to China.
All talk that Russia is playing the role of a junior partner of China, or depends on it, have no basis at all. We see that Russia, as an independent force, has provided some support to the current government of Myanmar — the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation has arrived there, Russia is negotiating the supply [of weapons] and support for the Myanmar regime. I do not exclude that after Russia began building a base in Sudan on the shores of the Red Sea, Russia will receive a second base in Myanmar. It is possible, I think the situation is developing towards this. This will be another important lever of Russian influence in Eurasia, including balancing relations with China.
Naturally, when the countries of Eurasia do not want and are afraid of the arrival of China, which, contrary to the popular stereotype, does not act calmly, slowly, cunningly and thoughtfully, but right through, as if in a hurry to take the place of the Americans — this pressure [of China on the one hand], and on the other hand, the thoughtless policy of the West that does not understand the risks of losing its control, China’s capabilities, and its influence, allows Russia to take the role of an important peacemaker. And we see that the events in Myanmar are not the only ones. For several years in a row we have been playing such a role in the DPRK, and now, as relations between China and Iran develop, the growing influence of China in Iran provokes protest actions, and the Iranian government naturally seeks support in the person of Russia, accelerating its negotiations on joining the EAEU.
This scheme will continue to operate in the future. The only thing we need to protect ourselves from is not to act as an arms supplier or a country that wants to get immediate benefits. It is more important here to consolidate Russia’s position as a powerful humanitarian peacemaker who brings peace, stability, health and prosperity to the region, but not as another supplier of weapons, another aggressor. In this case, Russia has a great future in the XXI century — the century of confrontation between China and the United States, at least in the next few decades. It is precisely on the strategy of non-intervention in major conflicts, while waiting for the United States and China to enter into a decisive battle, Russia can occupy significant space for its influence, incl. restore its influence at least to the extent of the late USSR.
Nikolai Vavilov, broadcast on DEN TV from 10.04.2021 / Source