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Friday, October 22, 2004


India pips PRC in Myanmar reshuffle

The removal of Myanmar's prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, by the military junta is expected to be greeted with some dismay in Beijing, according to "well-informed diplomatic sources" quoted by the South China Morning Post. The newspaper reported that Chinese leaders "had been well aware that Khin Nyunt was in a power struggle with his hardline rival General Than Shwe and had been trying to shore up the premier's position".

Last month Khin Nyunt returned from Beijing with "an armful of trade deals and soft loans to boost his clout at home" courtesy of the Chinese government's desire to keep him in place.

According to regional diplomats quoted by SCMP:

Beijing was keen that Khin Nyunt remained in place, as he was seen as the best bet for maintaining stability in his country through his advocacy of albeit-glacial political reform. Than Shwe's ultra-hardline approach was seen in Beijing as more likely to result in social unrest ...

Beijing also backed Khin Nyunt because he was keen on developing economic ties with China. Not only is Myanmar resource-rich, but it can also provide China with access to the Indian Ocean. Than Shwe was seen in Beijing as a xenophobe.

The Asia Times also picked the PRC as the loser in the power struggle adding that with the "arrest of ... Khin Nyunt, known to back China in the Sino-Indian contest for influence in Myanmar, the balance is believed to have tilted in India's favor."
India is preparng to greet Than Shwe, head of Myanmar's powerful State Peace and Development Council and also commander-in-chief of its defense forces, the first Myanmar head of state to visit India in 25 years.

Neutralizing China's significant influence in Myanmar has been a key concern that has driven and determined India's policy in recent years. While India was backing Myanmar's democratic movement, China was backing the generals and engaging in diverse forms of cooperation, including the sale and supply of military equipment, trade in consumer goods and building Myanmar's infrastructure.

China's rising profile in Myanmar was seen in Delhi as a direct threat to Indian security interests. Most worrying for India was the growing Chinese naval presence in the Bay of Bengal. Indian intelligence agencies have repeatedly drawn attention to the Chinese-built radar facility on Myanmar's Coco Islands (near India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands), which is reportedly serving as a listening post for Beijing on India's missile-testing facilities situated on its east coast.

The raging insurgency in the Indian northeast that borders Myanmar was an important factor. Many of the insurgents have set up camps and training facilities across the border in Myanmar ... There was also the problem of the narcotics said to be flowing from the Golden Triangle through Thailand and Myanmar into India.

But dealing with the generals has not been an easy game. Given the bitter power struggle within the senior ranks, India's interaction with the junta meant that it, too, would be sucked into the power game. With Khin Nyunt backing China, it was only natural that his main rival Maung Aye, the second-most-powerful man in Myanmar, warmed up to India.

Writer Sudha Ramachandran concludes that Maung Aye was concerned with Myanmar's excessive dependence on China and used this issue to undercut Khin Nyunt's influence by being more responsive to India.

Update: India welcomed Myanmar's army strongman General Than Shwe, who arrived today (24 Oct) on an official visit. The Myanmar leader, accompanied by a high-level cabinet delegation whose portfolios include industry, energy and communications, was greeted at the airport by India's junior foreign minister E. Ahamad and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

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