Burma Shows Flaws in China’s Sino-Centric Foreign Policy

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China has been aggressively moving into developing countries across the world, but an inherent flaw in their strategy is slowly coming to light. China’s self-centered approach is alienating governments, activists, and organizations across the world.

Burma Shows Flaws in China's Sino-Centric Foreign Policy

China is set to become a world super power

China has emerged as perhaps the strongest single challenger to American supremacy on the world stage. With an economy that regularly records growth rates in excess of 6 percent per year, and an emerging middle class that may some day replace American and European consumers as the world’s number one engine of growth, China is set to become a world super power.

Essentially, all international engagement carries with it a degree of self-interest. When the United States donates funding, for example, it often carries with it the stipulation that the money must be used to buy American goods and services. When the European Union funds a project, they are looking to promote the brand of the Union itself, as much as they are looking to contribute to the project.

Still, China’s Sino-centric approach is arguably more extreme than others. China has a long track record of developing infrastructure and helping emerging countries develop their economy. Still, China takes a largely Sino-Centric approach and generally does what’s in its best interest. Yes, they may build a road, but this road will almost certainly lead to resources that China wants to extract. Yes, China might set up a mining operation or build an oil field, but often the best jobs are reserved for Chinese engineers and there is little effort to train or develop local skilled staff.

The flaws in China’s policies are becoming evident

The flaws in China’s policies are becoming evident, however, as local NGOs and governments are growing increasingly weary of China’s self-centered approach. This shows in recently opened Myanmar where China is facing increasing backlash over its activities. For example, China has come under fire for essentially “confiscating” land from Burmese citizens and failing to adequately compensate them.

While NGOs have long been critical of China’s work in Myanmar, now it looks like the government is increasingly scrutinizing Chinese activities. Already, the civilian government has suspended work at the Myitsone Dam. China has responded to negative perceptions by building schools and increasing investments in local communities, but so far locals still perceive China largely in a negative light.

This negative perception is beginning to influence Myanmar’s foreign policies. Since opening up, the Burmese government has sought to balance the power of China with the power of the United States, Japan, and European Union. Myanmar is also looking to build stronger ties with other members of ASEAN, many of whom already have strong ties with the United States.

China was Myanmar’s largest supporter

Previously, Myanmar was clearly under the umbrella of the Chinese government. China was Myanmar’s largest supporter when Western sanctions were still in effect. Now, Myanmar is clearly trying to reduce its dependency on China.

China’s self-interest-based approach is alienating other Asian countries as well. Relations between China and India still remain cool, and relations with Japan are nothing short of tense. Indonesia, the Philippines, and other ASEAN members are also wary of rising Chinese power and are actively engaged in disputes over the South China Seas and other issues.

China’s approach may ultimately backfire. By focusing too much on short-term gains, China may alienate its neighbors and push them into America’s fold. Issues such as the South China Seas may ultimately lead to Chinese isolation as America and other countries look to take advantage and position themselves as more benign actors in the region. This is clearly evident in Myanmar’s increasing pivot towards the West.

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