Mapping China's Influence in Myanmar's Crisis

A conversation between Bonnie Glaser and Jason Tower discussing China's approach to relations in Myanmar following the Myanmar military's February 01, 2021 coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government.
March 05, 2024

On February 1st 2021, the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military began a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government, which was led by the National League for Democracy (or NLD) just before elected officials from the November 2020 elections could be sworn in. Since then, Myanmar has been largely controlled by a military junta, who continue to struggle against multiple ethnically-aligned armies dispersed throughout the country. Some countries in the region have refused to recognize the junta, but the People’s Republic of China called the coup simply a “major cabinet reshuffle” and accelerated their military trade with the junta while decrying Western sanctions on the country as escalatory measures, even going so far as to veto a security council resolution condemning the coup alongside Russia.

China’s approach to relations with Myanmar since the coup have been evolving swiftly, especially since the recent Operation 1027, a large offensive staged by the ethnic armed forces coalition known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance on October 27th 2023. The losses by the junta during the operation revealed their control of the country to be more tenuous than Beijing might have expected and exemplify the complex factors going into China’s decision-making approach to the conflict.

For this episode, host Bonnie Glaser is joined by Jason Tower, the country director for the Burma program at the United States Institute for Peace. Tower has over 20 years of experience working in conflict and security issues in China and Southeast Asia, including analysis on cross-border investments, conflict dynamics, and organized crime in the region. He worked previously in Beijing and is a former Fulbright research student and Harvard-Yenching fellow.

Episode Highlights:

[02:07] China’s Interest in the Myanmar Conflict

[05:48] China’s Engagement with Parties in Myanmar

[12:48] Impact of China’s Brokered Ceasefires

[20:30] Credibility of China in Southeast Asia

[25:15] Myanmar in the US-China Relationship