Strategic Importance of Burma

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Strategic Importance of Burma Khin Ma Ma Myo:

Strategic Importance of Burma Khin Ma Ma Myo The author accepts full responsibility for this talk.


Outline Geostrategic Position of Burma Burma Card during the Cold War Post-Cold War Geopolitics Asian Geopolitics Indian Ocean Burma Factor Future Trends

Burma's Geostrategic Position:

Burma's Geostrategic Position Largest independent state in mainland Southeast Asia Land boundary touches five different countries

Territorial sea and maritime interests (1):

Territorial sea and maritime interests (1) Burma’s coastline is 1,930 km long, 852 islands that lie within its waters Burmese government declared a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) and a zone of 24 nautical miles (44 kilometers)

Territorial sea and maritime interests (2):

Territorial sea and maritime interests (2) Burma has also laid claim to a continental shelf, and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), of 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers), thus extending its maritime interests to cover an area of 148,600 square km close to some Indian Ocean shipping lanes

Major Disputes over Land:

Major Disputes over Land A major dispute over the land boundary with China was satisfactorily resolved in 1960 Dispute over the land border with Bangladesh was agreed in 1999

Major Disputes over Maritime:

Major Disputes over Maritime Burma has laid claim to its waters in a number of ways that seem to violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. An agreement was reached with India over some of Burma’s claims in 1986 in 1993, a trilateral agreement was negotiated between Burma, India, and Thailand, over the tri-junction point between the three countries in the Andaman Sea.

Main Transport Corridors (1):

Main Transport Corridors (1) Most rivers run north and south, as do the main transport corridors. So East-west travel is difficult. Burma boasts 12,800 kilometers of inland waterways, 3,200 kilometers of which are navigable by large commercial vessels.

Main Transport Corridors (2):

Main Transport Corridors (2) The Irrawaddy River permits traffic to penetrate from the sea to Bhamo, more than 1,000 kilometers inland and only 50 kilometers from the Chinese border. The Sittang, lower Chindwin and lower Salween rivers are also used extensively by launches and other river boats, as is the maze of distributors and creeks in the Irrawaddy delta waterways remain a fundamental component in the country’s transport network. Burma also has 28,200 kilometers of roads, but many follow the rivers and railway corridors.

Burma Card during the Cold War:

Burma Card during the Cold War Conflicts and Crises in Asia Geopolitics centre and periphery

Burma was not a central concern:

Burma was not a central concern During the Cold War, Burma was not regarded a central concern for direct military engagements between superpowers. This junior position did not, however, mean that Burma was without significance The country was the object of a large amount of political and diplomatic energy stemmed from its strategic value, derived from its geographical position on the borders of India and China, and its status as one of the world's major sources of rice, the staple food of millions of Asians. For US, Burma's actual relevance to the concerns of the United States was less important than its perceived relevance to the (usually assumed) concerns of the Soviet Union and China.

Strategic Questions for Policy Makers:

Strategic Questions for Policy Makers (1) how could relations with independent, neutralist Burma be managed in such a way that the country cleaved to the West, rather than to the Soviet Union? (2) How could Burma be induced to recognise the threats it faced, and take action to meet them? (3) What scope was there for British and American diplomacy to influence policy-making in Rangoon? The answer is Foreign Aid

Strategic Failure (1):

Strategic Failure (1) There is an assumption rested in turn on a neo-colonial belief in the value and power of Western technology, and Western ways of ordering the world. However, there is a lack of acquiescence of the Burmese,both in the actual policies officials developed, and in the assumptions of Western superiority that underlay them.

Strategic Failure (2):

Strategic Failure (2) . Burmese politicians did not approach the world through the prism of Cold War confrontation. Instead, they approached it with a very definite sense of their own political and economic interests, and a clear understanding of how to maximise those interests by manipulating the Cold War preoccupations of larger states.

Lessons :

Lessons Western Aid strategies did not work for Burma during the Cold War. All the West's economic and military preponderance, the United States and Britain did not have a decisive influence over the policies and actions of an apparently weak and peripheral state like Burma Burmese politicians were deeply affected by their experiences under colonial rule, and the country's politics and policies were shaped as much by personality and factionalism as by the more highfalutin' questions of political and economic organisation at stake in the Cold War. The bundle of ideological, strategic, even moral conflicts denoted by the term `Cold War' did not mean the same thing in Rangoon as it did in Washington or London or in Moscow or Beijing.

Post-Cold War Geopolitics:

Post-Cold War Geopolitics Geopolitics is the study of the geographical dimensions of world politics. the term ‘geopolitics’ gradually came to define the knowledge used by leaders and ordinary citizens to make sense of the game of power politics across the world.

Critical geopolitics :

Critical geopolitics Geopolitical world orders Techno-territorial complexes Geopolitical economy Geopolitical Discourse

Post-Cold World Analysis :

Post-Cold World Analysis During the Post-Cold War, the geopolitical world order has shifted to relative predominance of the United States and unpredictable challenges to its power, influence and symbols across the globe. Techo-territorial complexes have increased with the nuclear weapons complexes of the superpowers, Internet, wireless communication and pervasive computer-controlled info-structures Neoliberal globalization based on an ideological commitment to unregulated markets, privatization and the virtues of advanced technological systems have emerged ‘Global dangers’ discourse also represents world politics as characterized by a range of borderlessness threats

Global Dangers :

Global Dangers borderless socio-environmental threats like AIDS and BSE/CJD, acid rain and toxic chemicals, global warming and rising sea levels. borderless politico-economic threats like transnational crime and drug trafficking,,cyber attacks and global terrorism borderless catastrophic threats like nuclear energy accidents and proliferating weapons of mass destruction

Attention on Asian Affairs :

Attention on Asian Affairs The Asian area extends from Afghanistan through Russia to Japan to Australia and there are distinct sub-regions with varying levels of interconnection. In East Asia, several great powers have connected interests, including the United States, China and Japan. South- East Asia is marked by its entwined maritime and littoral character from the Philippines to Indonesia. In South Asia, India and Pakistan have deep rivalries In Central Asia, the interests of China and Russia are engaged in an environment of the politics of energy access.

Asian Geopolitics and the rise of China:

Asian Geopolitics and the rise of China The interaction of geopolitical change with growth in military capabilities - the interplay between the ‘‘dynamic of technological change and military competitiveness’’—usually destabilizes any given balance of power.

‘‘Crouching Tiger, Swimming Dragon?’ :

‘‘Crouching Tiger, Swimming Dragon?’ In terms of 21st century Asian Geopolitics, the rise of China is the main key to understanding the relationship between geopolitics, military modernization for force projection, and the future Asian balance of power. There can be little doubt that China’s military strength is growing but whether this growth will challenge the Asian strategic balance is unclear. In overall direction, Official People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategic doctrine is that of ‘‘Limited War under High Tech and Information Conditions’’ in which the missile force, ‘‘the second artillery’’ is the mainstay.

To offset U.S. Military Muscle :

To offset U.S. Military Muscle China has achieved ‘‘a mini-leap forward.’’ Much of the PLA’s effort over the last decade has been focused on anti-access missiles and land attack cruise missiles while acquiring command and control, information,surveillance and reconnaissance technologies, electronic warfare capabilities and space technology, improved air capability through the acquisition of Sukhoi 27 and 30 jets; and developing special operations forces and a number of new naval platforms. Out-of-area activities by the PLA are largely confined to military diplomacy in the so-called ‘‘string of pearls’’ approach to building politico-economic presence.

Good Neighbouring Policy :

Good Neighbouring Policy China enhanced its good-neighboring policy to share common security interests with the peripheral security environment. China's peripheral countries can be categorized into three in accordance with the degree of their agreement with China's terms of strategic balance. The countries which shared China's interest in developing a regional multipolarization in which China would be one of the most important strategic powers playing a balancing role would include Pakistan, North Korea, Burma, Nepal, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia and Central Asia states

Good Neighbouring Policy (2):

Good Neighbouring Policy (2) The countries which hoped to maintain the current strategic balance in which the United States had the strategically advanced position would include Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, New Zealand and India. The countries which had concerns over the rise of China and wanted to establish a multilateral mechanism in China's periphery to prevent China from becoming a security threat to their interests would include the United States and Japan. With the success of Military Diplomacy and good-neighboring policy, China also sought to establish effective control over the Indian Ocean through military modernization campaigns.

Green Water to Blue Water Navy Status:

Green Water to Blue Water Navy Status Taken together, the doctrinal framework for high seas operations, along with the supply-capabilities and aircraft carrier development programs in the late 2010s, it is obvious that Chinese navy is designed to have a transition from offshore waters (Green Water) navy status to the high seas (Blue Water) navy status. China's rise in world affairs and military modernization represent one of the main principal trends that define the new global order along with U.S. Military supremacy and unparalleled power, the EU's increasing coherence and economic weight, and the acceleration of technological and economic globalization.

Strategic Rivalry in Indian Ocean:

Strategic Rivalry in Indian Ocean The Indian Ocean has become the center stage for the challenges of the 21st Century with the growing maritime strategic rivalry among India and China, the world's two most populous nations with a tetchy relationship.

Straight of Malacca:

Straight of Malacca For energy resources, approximately 60% of Beijing's oil crosses the India Ocean, specifically the Straight of Malacca, which is controlled by the US Navy. Thus, it is very obvious that the bulk of economic power of China lies in the hands of the sea lanes guaranteed by the US Navy. For Chinese strategic planners, there is a growing concern that the United States could cripple China by cutting off or blocking its energy supplies and Beijing is continually looking for the ways on land across Central Asia and by the sea, which could circumvent the US-Controlled Strait of Malacca.

Straight of Malacca (2):

Straight of Malacca (2) The Malacca Strait is a narrow and congested waterway separating Indonesia and Malaysia, with Singapore located at its southern tip and one of the world’s most important waterways with the transit of more than 60,000 vessels each year. As Beijing continued to immerse itself into the international market, concerns about the safety and stability of its trade linkages and sea lanes have become one of the key strategic issues and Chinese leaders have come to view the Malacca Strait as a strategic vulnerability. About 50 per cent of ships passing through the Malacca Strait are sailing to and from one of the China's ports. Among them, the imports of raw materials, especially oil, which is vital for China's rapid economic development.

Worst Case Scenario:

Worst Case Scenario Scholars suggested that whoever controls the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean could threaten China's energy security. Among Chinese security experts, fear of a worst case scenario of which would be a U.S blockade of China's oil imports from the Middle East has spread and triggered a rapid naval buildup by China. As energy is crucially linked to national security for China and concerns over energy resources underlined the efforts of People Liberation Army (PLA) to back up a policy of cooperation with credible navy strength. However, all China's maritime attempts to control events in the Indian Ocean would meet with Indian counter- measures due to the Indian maritime strategy envisions.

Maritime Objectives of New Dehli (1):

Maritime Objectives of New Dehli (1) Some of the maritime objectives of New Delhi may threaten energy security of China in the long run. (a) homeland defence, coastal defence, and control over maritime economic zones; (b) control of the waters adjacent to neighbouring littoral states; Some of the maritime objectives of New Delhi may threaten energy security of China in the long run. (a) homeland defence, coastal defence, and control over maritime economic zones; (b) control of the waters adjacent to neighbouring littoral states;

Maritime Objectives of New Dehli (2):

Maritime Objectives of New Dehli (2) (c) unfettered control of the seas stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Malacca Strait in peacetime, and the capacity to blockade these choke points effectively in wartime; and (d) the construction of a balanced ocean going fleet able to project power into the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Cape of Good Hope and into the Pacific by way of the South China Sea.

String of Pearl's Strategy:

String of Pearl's Strategy To reduce the strategic vulnerabilities that could be imposed by India and the United States, China pursue a number of options to mitigate the dependency of oil and try to diversify its sources of energy imports via new transit routes. Among them, the String of Pearls is one of the well-known emerging maritime strategy. The 'String of Pearls' strategy is designed to protect its energy security, negate the influences of U.S and India in the region and project power in the Indian Ocean.

String of Pearl's Strategy (2):

String of Pearl's Strategy (2) The strategy involves establishing a series of nodes of military and economic power throughout the region. Each node represents a pearl in the string and the string of these pearls extended from the coast of mainland China through the littorals of the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the littorals of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. Some of the significant pearls include the upgraded military facilities on Hainan Island; the upgraded airstrip on Woody Island, located in the Paracel archipelago 300 nautical miles east of Vietnam; the construction of a container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh; the construction of a deep water port in Sittwe, Burma and the construction of a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan, etc.

String of Pearl's Strategy (3):

String of Pearl's Strategy (3)

Indian Views on String of Pearls:

Indian Views on String of Pearls India’s Navy Chief clearly showed his concerns over the 'String of Pearls' strategy as “Each pearl in the string is a link in a chain of the Chinese maritime presence and could take control over the world energy jugular”. Moreover, some senior military officers from India have already presumed that there will be a regional conflict in the near future. One of the Indian Strategic Analysts warned that "India has good cause to feel threatened because of China's quick expansion and opaque nature of their military plans. We must presume there will be a clash.” China's 'String of Pearls' has raised the international concerns over the power struggles in the Indian Ocean region.

State of Play:

State of Play Beijing is mobilizing pressure to compel New Delhi to acquiesce to an open-ended expansion of China's military links and security role in the Indian Ocean region; New Delhi is mobilizing counter-pressure on China via the Look East policy to compel Beijing to suspend, or, roll back, its deep and growing military involvement in the region'.

Indian Strategic Interests :

Indian Strategic Interests To safeguard Indian strategic interests and with the alarms of Chinese naval power, Indian strategists called to develop power naval forces, especially to build light aircraft carrier, submarine and surface force to dominate the Indian Ocean region. In terms of geostrategic view, Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, only 500 miles from the Strait of Malacca and the Burma Coast is the most importance strategic area for India's Eastern Command in any future conflict with China. India's carrier strike force, missile-armed submarines and land-based naval aviation could make Chinese naval forces at a serious disadvantage if there were not provided effective air cover from the air bases in Burma. Thus, Burma factor has become the most important factor in Sino- Indian relations

Burma Factor for China:

Burma Factor for China As a littoral state in the Indian Ocean, strategic value of Burma has been increasing, especially in terms of energy security, strategic land bridge between South and Southeast Asia and its 1930 km long coastline dominating the eastern arch of the Bay of Bengal, leaning onto the Malacca Strait.

Closer relationships :

Closer relationships Since 1978, the Kuming- Rangoon route became the focal point of state visits and the provincial government of Yunnan played a key role in facilitating bilateral relations between China and Burma. During the 1990s, the two countries forged a closer relationship in response to the international isolation following the crackdowns of the protestors in August, 1988 in Burma and in June, 1989 in China. In terms of diplomatic isolation and economic collapse, Burma turned to China for economic assistance and military aids.

Consolidation of power through China help :

Consolidation of power through China help China helped Burma to strengthen its consolidated power through three means. (1) provision of advanced weapons (2) assistance in building military installations (3) facilitating the peace dialogue between the military government and the anti- government armed groups through its own influence.

Economic aid and infrastructure :

Economic aid and infrastructure China has given a massive offers of free loans and granted credits to the military junta for Myanmar's arms purchases as well as economic aids and direct investments for the construction of the country's infrastructure. Significantly, China supported the construction of strategic roads along the Irrawaddy Trade route that links between the Bay of Bengal and Yunnan province.

Important Consensus :

Important Consensus In June 1999, the leaders of both sides further reached the consensus on working towards a sustainable, stable and co-operative relationship oriented towards the 21st century. Since then, both China and Myanmar have maintained this consensus through military and intelligence cooperation, diplomatic ties and economic and trade links. In terms of military co-operation, for several years, China has supplied a bulk of military equipments including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, military aircraft and artillery pieces such as howitzers, anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft guns, etc.

Military Ties :

Military Ties Among the various forms of assistance and military ties, the most significant events involved China's assistance in establishing naval bases on Hianggyi Island in the Irrawaddy River Delta and in the Great Coco Island in the Indian Ocean, approximately 30 nautical miles from India's Andaman Islands. It is also argued that China has also built naval facilities, radars and signal-intelligence (SIGINT) posts all along the Myanmar coast and in the Coco Islands

Political and Security Considerations :

Political and Security Considerations Beijing's policy towards Myanmar since 1990s have based on political and security considerations, economic considerations and energy security. As PLA Navy could reach to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar-controlled islands which are near to Indian-controlled islands have put the strategic imperative of Myanmar in the eyes of Chinese strategists. Moreover, the PLAN would be able to shorten the distance by 3000 km to reach to the Bay of Bengal, without passing through the Malacca Strait.

Economic Considerations :

Economic Considerations China is a major player in several fields such as hydro-power projects, Banking and Finance. Yunnan Province also seeks 'a direct access route through Myanmar to sea ports from which it can export products to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe' that would reduce transport costs and time, and avoid the Malacca Strait in the event of a conflict in the South China Sea. Kyaukphyu gas pipeline would provide an alternative route for China to get access to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar and is of strategic importance for Chinese interests in the 21st century.

Future Trends:

Future Trends Burma factor plays an important role in the strategic calculus of China. Similarly Burmese military leaders play the China Card and would continue to do so.

China Card :

China Card While the popular assumption is that Burma is a client state of China. In fact, the military junta has skillfully played the China card to improve or maintain good relations with international community especially Thailand, India and Japan. After seizing power in 1988, the military junta opted for developing a more “open” economy, inviting foreign, including Chinese, investment into its domestic economy. Largely due to their mounting concern about China’s overwhelming dominance over Burma, ASEAN, India and Japan have all acknowledged the need to be involved. The international community have accepted the principle of non-intervention in their dealings with Burma, with India and Japan laying aside their initial principled support for human rights and democratisation in the reclusive country.

Xenophobic nationalism:

Xenophobic nationalism Bolstered by xenophobic nationalism, Myanmar makes every effort to maintain cordial relations with all major powers in the region to ward off over-dependence on any one country. Burma is often apprehensive about the potential threat to its sovereignty and security posed by its more powerful north-eastern neighbour, especially the issues with the insurgent armed forces in the politically sensitive ethnic minority areas along the China-Burma border.

India :

India In Burma’s effort to balance the pulls of outside influences, India plays a key role. Well aware of the competition and rivalry between China and India, the junta tends to play China against India in the negotiations over potential gas routes. India also felt compelled to seek the junta’s support to rein in anti-Indian insurrections in Indian Northeast. Both countries agreed in principle not to interfere into each other’s internal affairs.

Japan :

Japan Well aware of the geostrategic value of Myanmar, Japan is another major actor in regional politics. Japan has since 1988 faced a struggle between, on the one hand, the need to prevent Burma from leaning heavily on China, to accommodate the strong influence of major Japanese trading firms and to maintain its diplomatic clout in Southeast Asia, and on the other hand, the imperative not to undermine its alliance with the United States which persistently urges it to isolate the military regime. Thus, Japan’s policy is to occupy the middle ground by exercising “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with the junta.

EU and US :

EU and US Burmese military junta has skilfully used the twin threats of instability in minority border regions and increasing reliance on China to dissuade the west from intervening into its internal affairs and pushing it too hard. It might further diversify outside influences to strengthen diplomatic ties with EU and US by using the China card that adopt the state-centric approach to global governance to be built on individual states at the basic level, regional intergovernmental organisations at the middle level and the United Nations at the global level. This would serve to restrain the United States from exercising power unilaterally and meddling in the domestic affairs of other states, indirectly enhancing China’s security and freedom of action on various fronts. So United States and EU would go back to the cold war strategic approach of Foreign Aid to prevent Burma from leaning heavily on China.

Junta will continue to play China Card :

Junta will continue to play China Card Unless Burmese democratic forces do not recognize the geostrategic reality of Burma in their strategic calculus and rely only on the international community, Burmese military junta would continue to play China Card to deal with ASEAN, India, Japan and strengthen political and economic ties with United States and EU in terms of national development, foreign aid, military co-operation, counter-terrorism, international security and anti-drug trafficking.

Thank you very much. :

Thank you very much.

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