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Myanmar: The US-China Feud Spills into Myanmar:

Paper No. 6650                 Dated 20-July-2020
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
In an unusual and not  normally seen in diplomatic circles was the  open letter by United States Embassy in Myanmar openly accusing China of steadily eroding the sovereignty of the countries of ASEAN including Myanmar.
George N. Sibley, Charge d’ Affaires at the US Embassy at Myanmar in a statement to media under “Guest Column” openly accused China of undermining the sovereignty of the nations in the region.  He made the following points:
1.China’s actions in Hongkong and in the South China Sea are part of a larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbours.
2. The South China Arbitral Tribunal concluded that China’s claim to the South China Sea is a violation of international laws.  Yet China has rejected the findings of the Tribunal.  
3.  China has displayed arbitrary fishing bans and has harassed ships in the South China Sea.  It has continued to block ASEAN Countries in accessing their natural resources off their coasts.  
4.  In Myanmar the threat from China to the sovereignty of the nations in the region takes the shape of infrastructure projects and Special Economic Zones that pile up their debt and get regulatory control.  These projects benefit China far more than to those people in Myanmar.
5.  Nearly 80 percent of Myanmar’s reported human trafficking cases in 2019 involved women being trafficked to China.  The Chinese Law Enforcement Agencies have looked the other way without taking any action.  
6.  China has had no environmental concerns for Myanmar.  The Chinese exploitation of Letpadaung Copper Mines is one example.
7.  Thus the sovereignty of the nations in the region is not lost through any dramatic overt action  but through a cascade of smaller ones that leads to slow erosion of sovereignty over time.
8.  The US would support any action by ASEAN in standing up to China in troubling foreign policy and economic practices.
The charges are serious and specific and these were made on Saturday the 18th of July.  The Chinese Embassy responded the next day calling the accusations as an “outrageous smearing “ of the country.  Yet the Embassy could not anything substantial to meet the specific charges made against China.
It was not a coincidence that on the 17th July, a day prior to the US Embassy’s statement, the Army Chief, Min Aung Hlaing assured China that it will continue to support the implementation of the Belt & Road Initiative in Myanmar..  Significantly, he added that he “believed” that China will support the Peace Process and national development in Myanmar..
China has been playing a double game in showing support for the peace process and at the same time supporting the ethnic armed groups.  We have written a large number of articles in this site. To u,s China appears to be the main problem that while playing a “mediator role” in the ethnic conflict it is quietly supporting the armed ethnic groups that are active in Myanmar.
Could it be interpreted that what the   Chief really meant was that he would support the BRI provided China also supports the peace process in Myanmar.  In the past the Chief has openly expressed about China’s support to the ethnic groups and the recovery of huge cache of Chinese weapons  from the ethnic outfits.
With the South China Sea dispute hotting up and the US Navy periodically challenging China’s ownership, it has become imperative for Beijing to speed up its ambitious CMEC project.
In 2018 Myanmar agreed with China on the 1700 KM long China Myanmar Economic Corridor starting from the densely populated Yunnan province all the way to Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port and the Special Economic Zone. That would give China a direct access to Indian Ocean,  bypassing the Malacca strait=s a traditional passage that will be vulnerable in times of conflict.
China’s requirements cannot be met by the other corridor in Pakistan which runs through a difficult terrain and connects not so densely populated region of China with the Arabian Sea and hence the importance of the opening through the Kyaukphyu port in Myanmar.
A true copy of the Guest Column is attached as an annexure.
How the Erosion of Sovereignty Elsewhere Impacts Myanmar at Home
By George N. Sibley 18 July 2020 
As Myanmar has focused on the fight against COVID-19 in recent months, many of its friends, including the United States, have offered support. But troublingly, at this time of shared struggle across the world, the People’s Republic of China has continued its crackdown on democracy and disrespect for other nations’ sovereignty.
As governments responded to the twin calamities of the pandemic and its economic fallout, China aggressively cracked down on the independent, democratic spirit of Hong Kong, breaking a promise it made only 20 years ago.? The PRC also continued its unprecedented campaign to undermine the sovereignty of ASEAN countries in the South China Sea.?For Myanmar, these disputes may seem far away, but Beijing’s actions there are part of a larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors.?China’s actions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea alarm the United States and our friends and allies because these kinds of actions—breaking promises, ignoring the well-being of smaller nations, rewriting history—can happen anywhere.
At the June 26 ASEAN Summit, Southeast Asian leaders issued a strong statement that territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved in line with international law. The United States has a deep respect for all ASEAN countries, including Myanmar, and welcomed this statement that upheld the fundamental principles of the rules-based international system that undergirds the security and sovereignty of all nations. Four years ago, the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal rejected Beijing’s maritime claim as a violation of international law. Despite this—and with limited or no consultation with ASEAN claimants—China has deployed arbitrary fishing bans and harassed ships in the South China Sea. It has continued to block ASEAN countries from accessing resources off their coasts, including vast reserves of oil and gas and some of the world’s richest fisheries—the very livelihood of millions who call Southeast Asian coastal communities home.
These events are taking place far from Myanmar, but the PRC has used similar behavior to intimidate, threaten, and undermine Myanmar sovereignty closer to home. Instead of demarcating fisheries, it takes the shape of unregulated banana plantations in Kachin State that thrive on forced labor and damage the environment. Instead of spurious maritime claims, it takes the shape of unregulated investment and corruption in the mining and forestry sectors. Instead of island building, it takes the shape of infrastructure projects and special economic zones that pile on debt and cede regulatory control, and benefit China far more than they do the people of Myanmar. This is how modern sovereignty is often lost—not through dramatic, overt action, but through a cascade of smaller ones that lead to its slow erosion over time.
The United States stands as a partner to Myanmar and ASEAN on issues that matter to the people of Myanmar and to the countries of this region: improving health, strengthening democratic institutions, combating illicit narcotics, and promoting responsible business and investment practices that can contribute to sustainable, inclusive economic development. To help develop and strengthen economic opportunities for the people of Myanmar, the United States supports transparent, consultative processes that include the voices of local communities and that put economic prosperity and power back in their hands.
Far too many young Myanmar people fall victim to the scourge of illicit narcotics and the violence it inflicts on communities. The United States partners with Myanmar law enforcement to strengthen their capacity to investigate and prosecute criminals involved in the production and trafficking of methamphetamine and other drugs. This equipment and training have led directly to the seizure of billions of dollars of drugs, precursor chemicals, and drug production equipment, most of which came from China. The U.S. support contributes to healthier communities in Myanmar and across the broader region.
Far too many young Myanmar women are duped with the promise of high-paying jobs or husbands in China, only to be sold to human traffickers who exploit them for labor and sex. Nearly 80 percent of Myanmar’s reported human trafficking cases in 2019 involved women being trafficked to China. Law enforcement in China often looks the other way and fails to help these vulnerable victims. The United States continues to partner with Myanmar authorities to strengthen Myanmar’s capacity to prevent human trafficking, investigate and prosecute trafficking-in-persons crimes, and protect victims. Our law enforcement assistance on illicit narcotics and trafficking in persons is helping Myanmar stand up to transnational organized crime and protect future generations.
Far too many in Myanmar are being hurt by the rapid environmental destruction caused by corruption and poorly regulated investments. The land disputes and land contamination from the controversial China-backed Letpadaung copper mine illustrate the implications for everyday people of ceding control to foreign actors for short-term economic gain. Corruption and lack of regulation result not in economic development of disadvantaged communities, but in harm to people and devastation to the environment. The United States is supporting Myanmar’s efforts to become a full member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to shed light on the ownership of natural resources. The United States also supported the Myanmar government’s efforts to hold public consultations with all local stakeholders in drafting a gemstone policy. Both efforts put the Myanmar people first.
Whether in the South China Sea, in Myanmar, or elsewhere, the United States joins ASEAN nations in calling for a free and open rules-based order. When negotiating energy, communications, or transportation infrastructure projects, Myanmar benefits when it is not burdened by unnecessary debt or exploited for strategic gain. Together our voices can strengthen the sovereignty of every nation, as we work to build healthy communities, increase sustainable economic development, and expand trade and investment ties in ways that benefit the people of our countries. The United States supports ASEAN in standing up to Beijing’s troubling foreign policy and economic practices, just as for more than 70 years the United States has stood as a friend and partner to the people of Myanmar.
George N. Sibley is Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Myanmar.