Opinion / Editorials

Myanmar no pawn in geopolitical games

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-19 08:45

Myanmar no pawn in geopolitical games

China's Premier Li Keqiang and Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, August 18, 2016. [Photo provided to]

In a time rife with conspiracy theories and the Cold War-style imaginings of major-power geopolitical games, it perhaps should come as no surprise that State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to China means the China-Myanmar relationship is being scrutinized through the lens of power games.

That Suu Kyi has chosen China as the destination for her first foreign visit outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has thus been interpreted as an attempt to assuage any concerns Beijing might have about Naypyitaw drawing closer toward disruptive foreign powers from outside the region, most notably the United States and Japan.

It would be naive to ignore the complexity of diplomacy in these times of uncertainty. After all, major-power competition for influence is a political reality in East Asia at present.

But that does not mean Beijing and Naypyitaw have to surrender their relationship to such an exhausting, damaging game. Ties between these two neighbors have never worked that way.

They have long been on good terms largely because they have treated each other as equals. It is the constructive engagement in the past that has nurtured the special historical closeness between the countries' peoples and governments. It would be demeritorious for Naypyitaw to allow itself to be the pawn of any country in a geopolitical game.

While outsiders have speculated Myanmar under Suu Kyi would estrange China by leaning toward the West, her trip to Beijing indicates she is not who others think she is, or should be. Instead, she is a political realist who wants what is in her country's best interest.

A new administration in Naypyitaw does entail a reboot for her country's foreign relations, including those with Beijing. But that is more about reassuring and recommitting, rather than reworking, because the friendly foundations of bilateral ties remain sound and solid.

As Suu Kyi has said, unlike an estranged couple who can break their wedlock, China and Myanmar can't change the fact they are neighbors.

Those subscribing to the theory that China and Myanmar are falling out have substantially underestimated this essential aspect of the relationship. Even some in the two countries seem to fail to appreciate that their interests converge and complement each other more than they compete.

At the same time, Beijing is a constructive stakeholder in Naypyitaw's pursuit of domestic peace and national reconciliation.

That is why stalled projects like the Myitsone Dam should not be allowed to continue bogging down bilateral ties. And why those with strategic insight should look beyond such temporary setbacks.

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