American media has gone wild speculating about a secret Chinese hand in Myanmar’s recent decision to announce a year-long state of emergency. The country’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, detained members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Monday in response to what it claimed was their refusal to seriously consider its concerns about November’s contested elections. The Tatmadaw legally justifies its actions as being in alignment with Chapter XI of the 2008 Constitution enabling it to take control during a state of emergency. The US has yet to officially condemn events as a coup, though it’s reportedly considering doing so.
President Joe Biden already released a statement, however, announcing that the US will review its prior decision to reverse sanctions against the country which was originally made in response to its governance reforms over the past decade in the direction of implementing a system more closely resembling a Western democratic one. He also promised that the US and its regional allies will “hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in response to a question about whether this is directed against China that it’s directed at all countries in the region.
This fueled media speculation that Myanmar might become the scene of a political proxy battle between the US and China. The most prominent examples of this include Bloomberg running stories sensationally titled “Myanmar’s Army Chief Challenges Biden, Bets Big on China” and “Myanmar Crisis Sets Stage for Biden-Xi Duel”. Politico, meanwhile, headlined one of its stories “An inconvenient insurrection tests Biden on China, democracy support”, and Foreign Policy published a piece provocatively asking “Is Beijing Backing the Myanmar Coup?”
The new information warfare narrative very strongly implies that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Myanmar last month somehow signaled Beijing’s tacit approval for the Tatmadaw’s forthcoming decision to implement a state of emergency. Other variants claim that even if this wasn’t the case, that China will gleefully exploit the expected rift between Naypyidaw and Washington in order to boost its influence in Myanmar at the US’ expense. For these supposed reasons, the American media is encouraging Biden to keep China in mind when deliberating on his administration’s response to the Tatmadaw.
It would be an epic mistake if they fall for this media manipulation. There’s no better time than now for China and the US to patch up their prior disagreements and chart a new future of cooperation perfectly suited for the complex times in which humanity is presently living in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing the former Trump Administration’s trend of seeing a secret Chinese hand in everything that happens across the world which is regarded in one way or another (whether objectively so or not) as being detrimental to American interests could ruin the historic chance of a rapprochement between these two leading countries.
The fact is that China has nothing to do with Myanmar’s internal political developments. The neighboring countries closely cooperate on a range of issues, most importantly the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and two oil and gas pipelines which run parallel to that project. Beijing’s response to its partner’s state of emergency was to express its sincere desire “that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework and safeguard political and social stability.” Unlike the US and some other countries, it isn’t supporting one side over the other, which is the right position to take.
Regardless of whatever the US decides to do for whatever its reasons may be, it must see its decision as being completely separate from its larger strategy towards China. The People’s Republic isn’t involved in the Tatmadaw’s state of emergency, but falsely claiming otherwise is yet another attempt by self-interested forces to pressure Biden into continuing Trump’s anti-Chinese policies. America’s paranoia about a secret Chinese hand in everything across the world must stop as soon as possible. Reacting based on that delusion is a surefire way to ensure the failure of whatever policy the US ends up promulgating.