US, China trade barbs in Myanmar as South China Sea rift deepens

China’s embassy in Myanmar has accused the Trump administration of “outrageously smearing” the country and driving a wedge with its Southeast Asian neighbors over the South China Sea and Hong Kong.
Responding to U.S. claims Beijing was undermining the sovereignty of its neighbors, the Chinese embassy said U.S. agencies abroad were doing “disgusting things” to contain China and had showed a “selfish, hypocritical, contemptible, and ugly face”.
In recent weeks, the United States has hardened its stance on the South China Sea, saying it would back countries in the region that challenge Beijing’s claim to about 90% of the strategic waterway.
The U.S. embassy in Yangon also called China’s actions in the South China Sea and Hong Kong part of a “larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors”.
The statement by US drew parallels between China’s actions in the South China Sea and Hong Kong with large-scale Chinese investments projects in Myanmar that the United States warned could become debt-traps, along with trafficking of women from Myanmar to China as brides, and the inflow of drugs from China into Myanmar.
“This is how modern sovereignty is often lost – not through dramatic, overt action, but through a cascade of smaller ones that lead to its slow erosion over time,” the U.S. embassy said.
China however said the statement showed a “sour grapes” attitude by the US towards “flourishing China-Myanmar relations” and was “another farce on a global tour by the U.S. authorities to shift the attention on domestic problems and seek selfish political gains”.
“The U.S. should first look in the mirror to see whether it still looks like a major country now,” it said.
Myanmar has increasingly become a battleground for influence between the two countries since relations between the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the West became strained over its treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Author and historian Thant Myint-U has said that although the country was of negligible economic value to the rivals, its strategic importance as a bridge between mainland China and the Bay of Bengal was hard to ignore.
“The sheer weight of China’s giant industrial revolution next door is already transforming Myanmar; if multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects are added to the mix, the border between the two countries will become increasingly difficult to see,” he said.
“It’s important to remember that Myanmar was one of the few countries in the world where the last Cold War led to proxy armed fighting which in turn led to military dictatorship and decades of self-imposed isolation,” he added.