For multiple historical, ethnic, geographic, political, and economic reasons, China has been and will remain an integral player in Myanmar’s internal peace process, particularly regarding the ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar. Informed by numerous interviews in both China and Myanmar, this Special Report examines China’s positions, policies, and role in that process.

Summary

  • China’s interest in the Myanmar peace process is focused on the armed ethnic groups along the border in Kachin and Shan states—in particular, the Kachin Independence Army, the United Wa State Army, and the Kokang Army. These organizations have historical and cultural ties with ethnic groups across the border in China as well as political and economic connections.
  • China’s official position follows the principle of noninterference and its official policy is “persuading for peace and facilitating dialogues.” In practice, its attitude has been more ambiguous.
  • Beijing does not necessarily believe that comprehensive peace is attainable for the foreseeable future. Its priority is therefore to prepare for different uncertainties and maximize its flexibility in the process.
  • China’s role is complicated by the behavior of certain Chinese special interest groups and individuals who have offered direct financial support for ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar.
  • Under Myanmar’s new National League for Democracy government, ties with China have improved significantly. China has played a positive role in persuading armed groups to join the Union Peace Conference in 2016, but its future policy and role will depend on the development of bilateral relations and the evolving definition of China’s national interests.

About the Report

This Special Report examines China’s role and interests in Myanmar’s peace process. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and integral to USIP’s Asia Center programming, the report is based on more than eighty interviews with officials in China and representatives from ethnic armed groups in Myanmar.

About the Author

Yun Sun is a senior associate with the East Asia Program at the Henry L. Stimson Center and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Related Publications

Why Myanmar’s Desperate Generals Executed Prominent Pro-Democracy Figures

Why Myanmar’s Desperate Generals Executed Prominent Pro-Democracy Figures

Thursday, July 28, 2022

By: Priscilla A. Clapp;  Billy Ford;  Jason Tower

From virtually the moment Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government last year, the generals have faced a popular uprising that they met with escalating brutality. Even so, their decision last week to put to death — by hanging — four high-profile democracy advocates sparked shock and outrage at home and around the world. USIP’s Jason Tower, Priscilla Clapp and Billy Ford discuss what is behind the coup regime’s bloody move and its implications for Myanmar and international efforts to bring peace and democracy to the Southeast Asian country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a Fraying Truce May Hold Key to Anti-Regime Fight

In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a Fraying Truce May Hold Key to Anti-Regime Fight

Thursday, July 21, 2022

By: Kyaw Hsan Hlaing

Myanmar has been crippled by growing political turmoil and militant resistance since the army overthrew the elected civilian government on February 1, 2021. Today, most of the country is engulfed in a virtual civil war. In Rakhine State, however, home to one of Myanmar's most powerful ethnic armed organizations, a tenuous peace still prevails under a cease-fire reached with the pre-coup military in 2020. At the time, the truce benefited both the military and its adversary, the Arakan Army. Now, under the pressures unleashed by the military’s power grab, that deal is fraying. Should it collapse, the coup regime will face a vastly strengthened insurgency. The people of Rakhine, collaterally, will all but certainly suffer brutal counterstrikes from the air force and artillery of a military untroubled by its record of war crimes.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

China Bets Strategic Projects, Regional Stability on Myanmar Coup Regime

China Bets Strategic Projects, Regional Stability on Myanmar Coup Regime

Thursday, July 14, 2022

By: Jason Tower

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Myanmar last week was the first by a senior Beijing official since a military coup toppled Myanmar’s elected government in February 2021. Its ostensible purpose was to co-chair the foreign ministers meeting of a Chinese-led subregional framework known as the Lancang Mekong Cooperation Forum. Its deeper — though related — significance was to deliver a crystal-clear message on the conflict raging in Myanmar: China has chosen to bolster Myanmar’s military in its fight against a rapidly growing popular resistance movement and will support the junta’s position within key multilateral platforms.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionEconomics

U.S.-ASEAN Summit: A Chance to Explore New Steps to Resolve Myanmar’s Conflict

U.S.-ASEAN Summit: A Chance to Explore New Steps to Resolve Myanmar’s Conflict

Thursday, May 12, 2022

By: Priscilla A. Clapp;  Jason Tower

The February 2021 coup in Myanmar, which overthrew an elected government and installed a brutal military dictatorship, has posed an enormous challenge to the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN). The group has split on what — if any — action to take regarding the coup. Meanwhile, the military’s unbridled violence against the country’s citizens failed to suppress an increasingly militarized opposition and the conflict now affects ASEAN states bordering Myanmar and those beyond. As the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit gets underway this week in Washington, Myanmar will not be present, a symbol that the organization — as a whole— does not accept the coup government’s legitimacy. What’s next remains to be seen.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyDemocracy & Governance

View All Publications