China, Myanmar conduct naval drills
The Chinese navy on Sunday conducted its first joint exercise with Myanmar’s navy as its fleet concluded a four-day visit to the country. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy fleet, composed of three domestically made ships: missile destroyer Changchun, missile frigate Jingzhou and supply ship Chaohu, left Yangon on Sunday morn.The visit is part of a 180-day goodwill visit that will tour more than 20 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania. The fleet has already visited the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and is now en route for its next stop in Bangladesh.
Li Jie, a Beijing-based navy expert, said the ships China sent are comparatively advanced and experienced in escort, drill and patrol missions, and the F11 Aung Zeya and UMS Anawrahta (771) sent by Myanmar’s navy are also the country’s two flagship warships in service.
Wu Qian, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson, told the press on Saturday that the drill would involve exercises in fleet formation, fleet communication and joint search-and-rescue operations.
Wu added that China is willing to proactively implement the significant consensus agreed by the two countries’ leaders, enhance communication and deepen practical cooperation, so as to promote military ties and safeguard regional peace and stability.
Previously, Myanmar’s military exchanges with China were “weak and mostly symbolic,” compared with China’s exchanges with other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand, Li said. However, the first naval drill is a good sign of cooperation based on political mutual trust, he added.
“For Myanmar, the drill could help the country’s navy improve combat capability, which is also a significant move to secure maritime safety in the Bay of Bengal,” Song Qingrun, a research fellow at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the drill is also necessary after the China-Myanmar crude oil pipeline was put into operation last month, as it could familiarize both countries’ navy forces with the response to potential hazards, Li said.
The pipeline project, designed to carry 22 million tons of crude oil annually, will help strengthen China’s position in South Asia, and ease the country’s dependence on the Strait of Malacca.
The drill comes one week after Chinese President Xi Jinping met Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on May 14-15.
The two had expressed wishes for mutual understanding, mutual trust and expanded cooperation that will benefit the two peoples.
More diversified and deeper cooperation between China and Myanmar, covering military, economic and cultural cooperation, has been seen in the past, and the good momentum will continue, especially exchanges under the framework of the One Belt and One Road initiative, Song said. China’s Ministry of Commerce signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone with the Ministry of Commerce of Myanmar on Tuesday in Beijing. The zone will serve as a platform to implement the initiative.
The zone may strive to develop the manufacturing industry, especially labor-intensive industries such as textiles, electronics and component manufacturing, as it is the fastest and most convenient way to boost the local economy and employment, said experts.
Such cooperation, which benefits local people and local development, has garnered more understanding and acceptance among the Myanmese and is helping to ease skeptics of the Belt and Road initiative, who questioned China’s increasing influence in the region with the waning of Western influence on Myanmar.
China has no intention to “control” or “dominate” the region, nor does it have the capability to do so, and the network of highways, railroads, and maritime routes comes for the greater picture of serving the benefits of the two peoples, Song said, adding that the goodwill is understood by more people in Myanmar.
“Unlike the West, China is next door; it’s resourceful and prepared to play the long game,” read an editorial by Irrawaddy.com on May 12.
The Chinese Ambassador meets Myanmar naval officials. Photo: EPA