With its interests in flames, what will China do in Myanmar?

With its interests in flames, what will China do in Myanmar?

Over the weekend, protesters demanding the return of democracy in Myanmar burned down and looted Chinese-owned businesses in Yangon, the country's main city. China's embassy then asked the junta to restore order. In a few hours, the generals obliged: soldiers killed scores of demonstrators, and martial law was declared.

The anti-China riots add a fresh international dimension to Myanmar's political crisis. The protesters are angry not only at the military rulers, but increasingly at China's thinly veiled support for the junta. This backlash is a big test for Beijing. As a rising global power and regional heavyweight, is China going to simply look the other way as its interests in Myanmar literally go up in flames?

China's stakes in Myanmar. China has always been upfront on what it wants from its southern neighbor: a piece of its natural resources and waterways. Beijing wants the generals to restart long-shelved plans for a controversial hydropower dam to generate electricity for China, which locals fear will damage the environment and force thousands to relocate. Beijing is likewise hungry for Myanmar's rare earth metals (production has dropped significantly since the coup, which probably influenced Beijing's recent threat to stop exporting rare earths to the US.)

China also needs Myanmar to continue building a natural gas pipeline linking China's Yunnan province to the Kyaukpyu deepwater port in Myanmar's Rakhine state to gain access to the Indian Ocean, where China is competing for maritime supremacy with India.

Beijing in the hot seat. Since the February 1 coup, Chinese interests have come under fire in Myanmar. A lot of the buzz is on social media, which has been rife with rumors that China — the new regime's most prominent international ally — helped the military seize power. Pro-democracy activists also suspect Chinese cybersecurity experts are helping the junta develop internet censorship technology similar to China's own Great Firewall.

Despite its long history of shady activity in the country, China has dismissed such claims as fake news, and pushed back against protesters' calls to boycott Chinese products and sabotage the Kyaukpyu pipeline. But Beijing, as always, is worried about instability on its border, and frustrated with the generals' failure to end the post-coup unrest.

What will China do? China is in a bind on how to respond. On the one hand, it could just wait for the protests — and attacks on Chinese-owned businesses — to subside following a sustained bloody crackdown by the junta. That's precisely what China did following the 2014 and 2019 pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong, where Beijing now rules with an iron fist.

On the other hand, if the rising anti-China sentiment turns more violent, China could feel compelled to do something a bit more radical. Direct military intervention, however, would be anathema to China's longstanding policy of non-interference in domestic political affairs.

Non-interference vs Wolf Warrior. Right now, the Hong Kong scenario is more likely. One reason is that China is deeply concerned about its own reputation as a powerful yet benevolent Asian superpower, the main raison d'être behind its COVID vaccine diplomacy. The other is that China has no fond memories of the last time it deployed combat forces abroad. (That was in 1978, when China lost a brief war with Vietnam.)

But if Chinese businesses continue being singled out, Beijing will be wary of looking weak in the face of rising anti-China sentiment on its border. Further unrest could force Beijing's hand and unleash the "Wolf Warrior" — a new, more aggressive brand of Chinese diplomacy that draws it name from a blockbuster film depicting an extreme version of China using military muscle to defend national interests in Africa.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

More Show less

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

More Show less

When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Can "the Quad" constrain China?