Myanmar shadow govt voices support for China’s Taiwan policy

Analysts say the move is symbolic and meant to curry favor with Beijing.
By RFA Burmese
Myanmar shadow govt voices support for China’s Taiwan policy Zin Mar Aung, foreign minister of the National Unity Government, says “any country which wants to maintain a good relationship with China expresses their support for the ‘One-China policy.’" She is shown during a 2022 interview with RFA.

Myanmar’s shadow government has issued a New Year statement in support of China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, which analysts say is a symbolic move aimed at currying favor with Beijing as it vies with the ruling junta for recognition as the country’s authority.

On Monday, the National Unity Government, or NUG – made up of former civilian leaders and other anti-junta activists – released a 10-point statement that included a pledge of support for Beijing’s “One China Principle,” which holds that the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government of China and that the island of Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.

The statement said the NUG remains committed to maintaining friendly relations between Myanmar and its northern neighbor and will work to safeguard Chinese economic interests and combat transnational crime, including online scams and gambling. 

Additionally, the NUG vowed to prevent any organization that poses a threat to the security of neighboring countries from establishing a presence within Myanmar’s territory.

Zin Mar Aung, the NUG’s minister for foreign affairs, told RFA that her government issued the statement because China “plays a vital role in relationships with neighboring countries, as well as [determining their] credentials at the U.N. Security Council.”

“The NUG is often misquoted or false assumptions are made in regards to our foreign policy stance as part of a bid to upset our relations with regional countries,” she said. “So, the [statement was issued] to clarify our policy stance on international relations with regional countries for the purpose of establishing better cooperation.”

Zin Mar Aung noted that the NUG only issued its statement after reviewing the Taiwan policies of the U.S., E.U. and ASEAN. The U.S. endorses the “One China Policy,” which recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China but takes no position on sovereignty over Taiwan.

While both the junta and the NUG continue to vie for international recognition as the legitimate government of post-coup Myanmar, the NUG has opened representative offices in several European and Asian countries, while the junta has largely relied on the support of China and Russia, amid sanctions from the West.

Hla Kyaw Zaw, a China-based political observer, told RFA Burmese that the NUG’s statement indicates a desire to foster good ties with Beijing, noting that Taiwan is perhaps China’s “most sensitive issue” when it comes to foreign relations.

“Any country which wants to maintain a good relationship with China expresses their support for [some aspect of] the ‘One China Principle,’” she said. “So, it can be concluded that the NUG needs to issue this policy. However, no other countries will take it seriously.”

Scot Marciel, the former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar from 2016 to 2020, agreed in a post on the social media platform X, that the statement “should not cause concern.”

Instead, he suggested, it “makes sense as a means to encourage Beijing to recognize that there is a good alternative to supporting the junta.”

China hedges bet

The NUG statement comes amid the most significant gains made by Myanmar’s armed resistance against the junta since the military’s February 2021 coup d’etat. An alliance of ethnic armies in Shan state along the border with China launched an offensive in late October that has overrun hundreds of military and police checkpoints, prompting mass surrenders by junta forces.

Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing [right] shakes hands with China's Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong during a meeting in Naypyidaw, Oct. 31, 2023. Aung Myo, a former military officer of Myanmar and political analyst, said that although NUG has “fawned over” China, the latter will always focus on its interest and favor the more powerful side. (Handout/Myanmar Military Information Team/AFP)

Beijing, for its part, has been content to watch the power struggle play out in Shan state and wider Myanmar without throwing its full support behind either of the two sides.

Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing that “China supports the peace process of northern Myanmar and has provided support and facilitation for dialogue and contact between relevant parties, and to realize the soft landing of the situation in the northern part of the country.”

Attempts by RFA to contact the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar for comment on the NUG’s statement and to clarify its position on the shadow government went unanswered by the time of publishing.

Seeking powerful partners

Yun Sun, a senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington called Monday’s statement “a clear move to gain China’s support for its bid to overthrow the junta.”

But she questioned how likely such a move would be in swaying China away from its support of the junta, which it was quick to offer in the aftermath of the coup.

“China has not favored [the] NUG so far, even though its frustration with the junta is evident,” Yun Sun said, referring to the military regime’s policies that have arguably contributed to Myanmar’s instability. “For China, the political process in Myanmar will have [to] work itself out organically. It is not something China will interfere [with] or expedite.”

Yun added that whatever goodwill the NUG earns from Beijing for its statement, “its support of the One China Principle is not going to gain them any friends here [in Washington].”

Aung Myo, a former officer in Myanmar’s military and a political commentator, agreed that nothing short of removing the junta from power would win the NUG support from China.

“No matter how much the NUG fawns over China, China will not favor the NUG,” he said. “Keeping its interests in mind, China will consider which side is more powerful for building a partnership.”

In fact, he added, the NUG has come to this realization, which is why it is attempting to court China.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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