Wang Yi and Suu Kyi
Short analysis
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China tries to stay out of the fray after the military coup in Myanmar

The facts: Beijing has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid criticizing either the coup in Myanmar or the generals involved. Whereas other countries have strongly condemned the coup, Beijing’s reaction has so far been muted. China blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to issue a statement condemning the coup and the state-owned news agency Xinhua even described the development as no more than a “major cabinet reshuffle”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) claimed that China was still trying to understand the situation and called for calm and stability - ostensibly following the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

What to watch: The coup isn’t entirely good news for China. China has clear strategic and economic interests in Myanmar – not least the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, part of the BRI – and it wants the country to be stable and relatively integrated into the international community. Beijing had also cultivated close ties with Aung San Suu Kyi and her party over the last few years. Now, China must forge a new alliance with the military, which has historically been a complicated partner.   

MERICS analysis: “China’s relationship with and involvement in Myanmar does not depend on who is in power – Beijing is ready to deal with the generals and its muted response to the coup most likely reveals a belief that the military is not going to reverse course. However, ongoing instability, along with the possibility that Myanmar may once again be sanctioned and isolated on the international stage, may be costly for Beijing.” Helena Legarda, Senior Analyst at MERICS.

Media coverage and sources:

This article was first published in the February 11 issue of MERICS China Briefing.