In a recent article on Foreign Policy, analyst Yun Sun presented an on-going concern for China's relations with a "democratizing" Burma/Myanmar. Burma/Myanmar has been able to quickly improve its relations with the West (here used to mean mostly the U.S. with Europe, Canada, and Australia presenting a lesser concern to the Chinese foreign policy elite), and as a result China has reason to be concerned that it might loose its historically strong presence in this strategically important country.
The article points out that some people in China have remarked that they can leverage their ties to ethnic groups in northern Burma/Myanmar, namely the Wa and Kachin, in the event that Naypyidaw continue to distance itself from China and metaphorically hop into bed with the United States. The article directs our attention to the following statement:
...China should return to its old friends -- the border ethnic groups that are waging small-scale rebellions against Naypyidaw -- to enhance its leverage there. Liang Jinyun, a professor of political science at Yunnan Police College in southwest China, argued in an influential 2011 paper that these ethnic groups, if "used" well, "will become China's most loyal friend in the frontline of confrontation between the United States and China in Myanmar."
The author points out that in personal interviews Chinese foreign policy makers have neglected this idea as against the Chinese principle of non-interference, and concludes that siding with ethnic separatist groups would be sticky business for China when dealing with its Uighur and Tibetan populations.
I argue that such a policy would be the worst policy decision post-Maoist China has ever made with regards to regional stability and its general relations with ALL the nations it borders. While China may be able to play its "Kachin/Wa card" to help seek a solution to on-going wars between these nationalist forces and the Burmese military (Tatmadaw), the article argues that China might actively support these ethnic struggles to the detriment of the Burmese government. Supporting separatist causes will worry almost of all of China's neighbors. Lao's ethnically diverse north, Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek population, the non-Viet hinterland of Vietnam, and Russia's Siberian republics are just a few that come to mind. Furthermore, China would have to account for its continued maltreatment of its own national minorities, namely Tibetans and Uighurs.
It was not so long ago that China did encourage ethnically-based Maoist revolution in its neighbors territory. In interviews with Indian policy makers, it is clear that no one has forgotten China's role in supporting Maoists in northern India. For the time being, China has managed to craft a foreign policy that gives it the reputation of being a force for stability throughout Asia. Authoritarian governments in the region are happy to know that China will not force political liberalization, and democratic/semi-democratic neighbors recognize China as a more or less predictable, albeit difficult actor. If China were to once again resort to supporting revolutionary movements in Asia, then the country's credibility would be almost instantaneously lost, and even more homogenous states, such as Mongolia, would have to seriously rethink their engagement with the PRC. A likely consequence would be seeking closer ties with the U.S. to counter Chinese pressure, effectively achieving what China seems to fear the most.
It seems unlikely that China would make such an irrational and shortsighted policy decision, but if it did, it would absolutely be the worst thing China can do.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.