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As the people of Myanmar believe that China is secretly backing the junta government, the Chinese government is being careful in dealing with the Min Aung Hlaing government and the intelligence sources suggest that Beijing is considering using Pakistan as an intermediary to sell and export military hardware to the junta, reports The Irrawaddy.
China has tried to engage with the people of Myanmar since the widespread anti-China protests that followed last year’s coup.
Late last month, China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, joined U Ko Ko, the junta’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture, at a ceremony marking the China-funded installation of security doors guarding a sacred hair of the Buddha at Yangon’s Botataung Pagoda and to celebrate the reopening of the shrine.
Speaking at the ceremony, Chen Hai said that he was delighted to see friendly exchanges between the Buddhist communities of Myanmar and China.
Since the coup, Beijing has been careful to engage not only with the junta, but to open a low-level, informal dialogue with the parallel National Unity Government (NUG). But China is not a trusted neighbour and Beijing’s undisclosed support of the Myanmar military is being closely monitored. Unlike Russia, China cannot openly sell arms to the regime.
With coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing making repeated visits to Russia with a shopping list for jet fighters, helicopters and missiles, China is concerned that it will lose Myanmar as a customer for its weapons.
At the same time, Pakistan’s security ties and defense cooperation with Myanmar have increased since the military takeover. Pakistan is reportedly delivering two JF-17 Thunder Block-II aircraft to the Myanmar Air Force. In 2018, Myanmar`s military bought 16 JF-17 Thunder multi-role aircraft from Pakistan for US$560 million. The aircraft is co-developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation.
The junta is also also reportedly considering purchasing heavy machine guns, 60 and 81mm mortars and M-79 grenade launchers from Pakistan.
Islamabad was formerly a strong critic of Myanmar’s government for what it alleged was a state-sponsored terror campaign against Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
At the same time, Myanmar has in the past accused Pakistan of arming and training the radical Rohingya group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Now, though, the two countries seem to have grown closer, apparently at the behest of Beijing, which is understood to be brokering arms deals between Pakistan and Myanmar.
Security experts claim that China has surreptitiously stepped up its engagement with Myanmar’s junta. As part of that clandestine cooperation, Beijing has got Islamabad involved as a proxy to supply weapons to the regime.
Beijing is wary of the deep anti-China sentiment in Myanmar and the likely backlash if it is seen to be supplying arms to the junta.
Anti-Chinese sentiment swelled in Myanmar following the coup, with many people believing that Beijing had a hand in the takeover. Soon after the putsch, there were calls for a boycott of China-made goods, along with calls to blow up the oil and gas pipelines that run from Rakhine State to Yunnan Province in southwest China if Beijing failed to condemn the junta.