The Vexing Strategic Tug-of-War over Naypyidaw: ASEAN’s View of the Sino–Burmese Ties

Pavin Chachavalpongpun


This article argues that ASEAN’s policy toward Myanmar has been predominantly responsive, dictated by China’s activism in the region. It posits three arguments: First, that the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, may have been a tactical move to convince ASEAN to award it the 2014 chairmanship and thereby consolidate the legitimacy of the current regime; second, that Thein Sein’s suspension of the Myitsone Dam was a strategic move intended to please both domestic and ASEAN constituencies; and third, that Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014 will help justify the organisation’s past approach to Burma as well as accelerate the process of community-building. The paper argues that in spite of the growing interconnectedness between ASEAN and China, ASEAN is locked in a strategic tug-of-war with China over Myanmar. Myanmar has, on multiple occasions, played upon ASEAN’s suspicion of China by playing the “China card,” as I term it, forcing ASEAN to continually legitimise it through public statements.

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