China’s inclusion of Myanmar’s former ruling party in a regional summit is an indication that Beijing believes that the party ousted in a Feb. 1 military coup will continue to be a force in politics, analysts and party members told RFA.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s democratically elected National League for Democracy government was deposed in a coup d’état, but the NLD was one of four Myanmar political parties invited to an inter-party event on economic development hosted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
China in June referred to coup leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as “the leader of Myanmar,” a move that The Diplomat magazine said was a step toward “de facto recognition” of the junta. Beijing is among countries that have not publicly condemned the military takeover.
Under its Belt and Road Initiative of global infrastructure spending and lending, China has invested more than $21 billion in Myanmar, and has long been concerned about the stability of its southern neighbor.
Beijing has had contacts with the NLD since the coup. The NLD sent a congratulatory letter when the CCP marked its 100th anniversary on July 1, and received a letter of thanks from Beijing on July 21.
In a message to junta leaders last month, Chinese officials said they wanted to see the NLD continue to exist as a political party, in response to the military regime’s recently revealed plan to dissolve the NLD, The Irrawaddy online newspaper reported.
Political analysts told RFA’s Myanmar Service that China invited the NLD to the meeting because Beijing is aware that the ousted political party still has strong support among Myanmar’s population of 54 million.
“This just shows that China recognizes the NLD’s continued presence in Myanmar politics. It also shows that Beijing did not accept the military’s attempt to dissolve the NLD,” said Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Myanmar political analyst based in China’s Yunnan province across the border from Myanmar.
“I think the Chinese idea is to have a comprehensive dialogue to resolve the issues peacefully between the military council, the NLD and all the major organizations in the country. China is urging them to find a negotiated solution,” Hla Kyaw Zaw said.
While China has sided with previous military regimes in Myanmar, it has not forgotten the lessons of the past, Ye Tun, a Myanmar lawmaker turned political analyst told RFA.
“China seems to think the NLD will win the elections in August 2023. In reality, we can see that our country’s politics without the NLD will be very difficult to achieve stability.
A U.S.-based analyst of Chinese foreign policy, however, saw only modest significance in Beijing’s gesture to the NLD.
“I don’t think China’s meeting with the four political parties, including NLD, is hedging the bet,” Yun Sun, Director of the Washington-based Stimson Center’s China Program told RFA.
“This is party-to-party diplomacy, rather than state-to-state relations. The NLD is neither disbanded nor declared illegal,” she said. China’s ruling party “faces no constraints to engage the NLD,” Sun added.
But including the NLD in the meeting does show that China is adjusting to the situation on the ground in Myanmar, a local NLD leader in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon told RFA.
“China must have thought during the first couple of months that the military would gain complete control over the country. But now, seven months after the coup, we have been forced to take up arms and reclaim our territory,” said lawmaker Bo Bo Oo, who represented the NLD at the online meeting and is responsible for the party’s communications with China
“The junta also has no control over the economy. Diplomatic relations with other nations have also plummeted. Under these circumstances, the future of the military council is uncertain,” he said.
“Beijing has changed its perception due to this uncertainty. In my view, Beijing’s analysis of the current situation is closer to the truth than ever before,” said Bo Bo Oo.
Myanmar remains strategically important to China, according to Zin Ma Aung, foreign minister for the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), made up of ousted NLD lawmakers.
“Myanmar is a close neighboring country to China, and the NLD is a major political party. As China adheres to the principles of the Chinese Communist Party, it is more likely that it will continue to engage in inter-party relations,” Zin Ma Aung told RFA.
The other three Myanmar political parties that joined the regional meeting were the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the Arakan National Party (ANP), and the Lisu National Development Party.
A USDP spokesperson attributed the CCP’s inclusion of the NLD and the other parties to Beijing’s broad political vision.
“As the Chinese Communist Party turns 100 years old, its political ideology has broadened,” said Thant Zaw Lwin, deputy head of the USDP Youth Affairs Committee.
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