The Inaugural Russian-Myanmar Naval Drills Bolster Their Balancing Acts Vis-à-Vis China
China and Myanmar’s shared Indian neighbor is closely monitoring this mutually complementary balancing act, which positively shapes its perceptions of those two and Russia.
The first-ever joint Russian-Myanmar naval drills are taking place in the northern Andaman Sea this week. This development represents the latest tangible manifestation of those two’s rapidly intensifying strategic partnership, which began to strengthen after the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) reassumed control of the country in early 2021 and greatly accelerated following the start of Russia’s special operation a year later. These two analyses share more insight into their ties since then:
Basically, they’re both deemed to be “rogue states” by the West, the designation of which pushed them to depend more on their shared Chinese neighbor as a valve from that bloc’s sanctions pressure. While each appreciates the People’s Republic as a strategic partner, they’re also concerned about potentially becoming disproportionately dependent on it. With a view towards preemptively averting that scenario, they’ve sought to gently balance China’s growing influence via friendly, gentle, and non-hostile means.
The accelerated strengthening of their strategic partnership advances this shared goal in a mutually complementary way by showing the world that neither is beholden to China like some at home and abroad had hitherto thought for the abovementioned reason. Neither feels comfortable with the notion among some that they’re China’s “junior partner”, which is why Myanmar sought Russia out for defense cooperation while Russia sought Myanmar out to reaffirm its credentials as an independent actor in Asia.
The first benefits by diversifying from its prior disproportionate dependence on China for ensuring its national security interests while the second benefits by demonstrating to the rest of Asia that it can help Myanmar achieve this goal without experiencing any adverse consequences from their shared neighbor. Meanwhile, China and Myanmar’s shared Indian neighbor is closely monitoring this mutually complementary balancing act, which positively shapes its perceptions of those two and Russia.
Regardless of whether the reader agrees with the following assessment, it’s arguably the case that India formulates policy based on the assumption that China is conspiring to impose a system of unipolarity in Asia, which is why it’s very suspicious of the People’s Republic. The notion that Russia and Myanmar have become its “junior partners” could lead to India surrendering its strategic autonomy to the US out of desperation to decelerate China’s supposedly hegemonic rise, which would doom multipolarity.
Instead of the global systemic transition continuing to move in that direction, the world order would suddenly become bi-multipolar, meaning that the interplay between the American and Chinese superpowers would play an outsized role in International Relations at the expense of others’ sovereignty. Unlike during the Old Cold War’s formally bipolar system, the multipolar progress that had been achieved prior to that point would still leave a lasting legacy, albeit an incomplete one in this case.
The reason why India hasn’t submitted to becoming the US’ largest-ever vassal state is because it isn’t convinced that China will inevitably succeed with its supposed plans to impose a system of unipolarity in Asia. Russia and Myanmar’s mutually complementary balancing acts counteract the fearmongering predictions of naïve policymakers and pro-American agents in India alike by proving that neither state has become China’s “junior partner”, which in turn gives hope that multipolar processes will continue.
Accordingly, there’s no compelling reason for India to seriously countenance surrendering its strategic autonomy to the US out of desperation to decelerate China’s supposedly hegemonic rise since it’s far from a fait accompli if it can’t turn even “isolated” and “rogue” Myanmar into a “client state”. That’s not to lend credence to claims that it wants to do so in the first place, but only to point out that the Russian dimension of Myanmar’s balancing act has prevented that from happening even if by innocent inertia.
The role that Russia plays in Myanmar’s grand strategic calculations is of course much greater than the one that Myanmar plays in Russia’s, which relies much more on India and to a lesser extent Vietnam to optimize its respective balancing act vis-à-vis China, but each still complements the other. The unintended consequence is that India is reassured about the wisdom of its own balancing act between Russia and the US vis-à-vis China, which keeps multipolarity on track and bi-multipolarity at bay.