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Is post-election Myanmar moving closer to China?



Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as they pose for media before their meeting on 25 April 2019 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China (Photo: Reuters/Parker Song).

Author: Enze Han, HKU

Amid the worsening domestic COVID-19 situation, Myanmar’s election in November 2020 brought a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. Despite voting restrictions in parts of Rakhine and Shan states, the election was overall a step in the right direction, and the NLD increased its majority in the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) and Amyotha Hluttaw (upper house).



The show of support at the ballot box for the NLD indicates the domestic popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her defence of Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya crisis at the International Court of Justice — and in many other international venues — was dubbed a betrayal of democracy and human rights by Western media, but it boosted her domestic aura as a defender of Myanmar.

The priorities for the NLD government are no doubt domestic. The COVID-19 pandemic ransacked Myanmar’s economy and the domestic poverty rate skyrocketed. High on the government’s agenda is creating employment for millions of Myanmar workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The country still faces one of the worst humanitarian crises with the Rohingya issue which battered its international image and led to economic sanctions. Myanmar’s domestic peace process has also stalled and militarised conflicts in the north of the country have no end in sight.

To deal with these issues, China is the most indispensable country for Aung San Suu Kyi and her government. As one of the manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines and with a promise to contribute to the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries, Myanmar needs to work with China to vaccinate its population. Vaccine diplomacy was high on the agenda during a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Myanmar in early January 2021, despite Naypyidaw making the first order of 30 million doses from India.

As the largest trading partner and second largest FDI source for Myanmar, the continued economic growth and opening up of the Chinese market will also have positive reverberations. Although Myanmar society overall holds anti-Chinese sentiments, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government still sees the benefits of engaging in close economic cooperation with China. Initiatives such as the China–Myanmar Economic Corridor aim to further connect the two economies.

With the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Myanmar is also set to benefit from further relaxing of trade restrictions among its major trading partners. The government is optimistic that participating in RCEP will help Myanmar gain access to a large market for its exports, and that there will also be opportunities for responsible, high-quality investment inflows.

While Myanmar faces tremendous pressure from the West on the Rohingya issue, Myanmar’s Asian neighbours are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Only Malaysia and Indonesia — as the two Muslim-majority countries in ASEAN — have been more vocal.

China is Myanmar’s strongest supporter on the Rohingya issue and is actively involved in facilitating negotiations between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The protection China offers to Myanmar at international institutions is crucial. A quid pro quo is evident between the two countries with Myanmar offering support for China at the United Nations on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. This cooperative relationship will likely continue as both face similar pressure from the West.

More importantly, Myanmar’s domestic peace negotiations with a number of ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) has also stalled. At the Fourth Union Peace Conference in August 2020, six prominent EAOs did not attend the meeting, partly due to a lack of pressure from China. Given China’s close historical ties with these EAOs, Myanmar needs to make sure China sees the value in facilitating dialogue between them and the central government.

Beijing needs to be aware of a possible public opinion backlash within Myanmar towards China’s close relations with these EAOs and ultimately push for a peaceful settlement. At the same time, by participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Myanmar intends to convince China that peace along the bilateral borderland area will bring benefits for China as well.

Myanmar’s relationship with the West — particularly the United States — might not improve any time soon. The Rohingya issue significantly soured Naypyidaw’s relationship with Washington and tarnished domestic goodwill within Myanmar towards the…

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Fixing fragmentation in the settlement of international trade disputes



Fragmentation in global trade due to the lack of development in multilateral trade rules at the WTO has led to an increase in FTAs. The Appellate Body impasse has further exacerbated fragmentation, requiring a multilateral approach for reform.

Fragmentation in Global Trade

Fragmentation in global trade is not new. With the slow development of multilateral trade rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments have turned to free trade agreements (FTAs). As of 2023, almost 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements have been notified to the WTO, leading to growing fragmentation in trade rules, business activities, and international relations. But until recently, trade dispute settlements have predominantly remained within the WTO.

Challenges with WTO Dispute Settlement

The demise of the Appellate Body increased fragmentation in both the interpretation and enforcement of trade law. A small number of WTO Members created the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) as a temporary solution, but in its current form, it cannot properly address fragmentation. Since its creation in 2020, the MPIA has only attracted 26 parties, and its rulings have not been consistent with previous decisions made by the Appellate Body, rendering WTO case law increasingly fragmented.

The Path Forward for Global Trade

Maintaining the integrity and predictability of the global trading system while reducing fragmentation requires restoring the WTO’s authority. At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in 2022, governments agreed to re-establish a functional dispute settlement system by 2024. Reaching a consensus will be difficult, and negotiations will take time. A critical mass-based, open plurilateral approach provides a viable alternative way to reform the appellate mechanism, as WTO Members are committed to reforming the dispute settlement system.

Source : Fixing fragmentation in the settlement of international trade disputes

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WTO ministerial trading in low expectations and high stakes



The WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference is set to focus on e-commerce transparency, investment facilitation, and admitting new members. However, progress may be hindered by disputes, especially regarding fisheries subsidies.

The World Trade Organisation’s 13th Ministerial Conference

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference is set to take place in Abu Dhabi on 26–29 February, with expectations of deals on electronic commerce transparency, investment facilitation for development, and the admission of Timor Leste and the Comoros as WTO members. Despite these positive developments, the expectations are relatively modest compared to promises made at the 12th Ministerial Conference, which included addressing fisheries subsidies and restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement mechanism by 2024.

Challenges in Dispute Settlement and Agricultural Trade Reform

However, challenges remain, especially in the deadlock of dispute settlement since December 2019 due to a US veto on the appointment of Appellate Body judges. Progress in restoring the dispute settlement mechanism has stalled, and discord continues regarding India’s grain stockholding policy as a potential illegal subsidy. Restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement mechanism hinges on addressing US concerns about perceived bias against trade remedies in relation to China’s state subsidies.

Geopolitical Tensions and the Future of Trade Relations

The likelihood of reaching agreements amid geopolitical tensions between Western democracies and China appears slim, with issues surrounding subsidies and global supply chains causing rifts in trade relations. As nations focus on self-reliance within the global value chain, opportunities for trading face obstacles. Advocacy for open markets and addressing protectionist sentiments remains crucial for fostering resilience to external shocks and promoting economic growth.

Source : WTO ministerial trading in low expectations and high stakes

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Getting Vietnam’s economic growth back on track



Vietnam’s economy grew 8% in 2022 but slowed in 2023 due to falling exports and delays in public investments. The economy’s future depends on structural reforms and reducing dependency on foreign investment.

Vietnam’s Economic Roller Coaster

After emerging from COVID-19 with an 8 per cent annual growth rate, Vietnam’s economy took a downturn in the first half of 2023. The drop was attributed to falling exports due to monetary tightening in developed countries and a slow post-pandemic recovery in China.

Trade Performance and Monetary Policy

Exports were down 12 per cent on-year, with the industrial production index showing negative growth early in 2023 but ended with an increase of approximately 1 per cent for the year. Monetary policy was loosened throughout the year, with bank credit growing by 13.5 per cent overall and 1.7 per cent in the last 20 days of 2023.

Challenges and Prospects

Vietnam’s economy suffered from delayed public investments, electricity shortages, and a declining domestic private sector in the last two years. Looking ahead to 2024, economic growth is expected to be in the range of 5.5–6 per cent, but the country faces uncertainties due to geopolitical tensions and global economic conditions.

Source : Getting Vietnam’s economic growth back on track

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