Japan's "Last Hope": Myanmar as an arena for Sino-Japanese competition, coordination and global standardization

  • Zappa, Marco (Japanese Studies, Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca' Foscari University Venice)
  • Published : 2021.12.31


Despite competing strategical interests over Southeast Asia that have emerged in the last decade, with the launch of wide scope geopolitical strategies Chinese and Japanese initiatives have been characterized by a certain degree of implicit coordination, particularly in offering support to the Myanmar state's territorializing strategies for economic development. The case of the Thilawa Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is exemplary, as it was a Japan-led project which became a model and benchmark example for similar development initiatives supported by the People's Republic of China.



This work was supported by the Seed Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2020-INC-2230010).


  1. Akimoto, D. (2021, May 13). Japan's Ambivalent Diplomacy in Myanmar. The Diplomat.
  2. Aung, H. L. (2016, July 20). Work on Thilawa 'Zone B' to begin after rainy season. The Myanmar Times.
  3. Aung, N. N. (2013, August 4). Compensation in sight on Thilawa SEZ. The Myanmar Times.
  4. Aung, S. L. (2016). The Thick and Thin of the Zone. Limn, 7.
  5. Bak, D., Chavez, K., & Rider, T. (2020). Domestic Political Consequences of International Rivalry. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 64(4), 703-728.
  6. Bassett, T. J., & Gautier, D. (2014). Regulation by Territorialization: The Political Ecology of Conservation & Development Territories. Introduction. EchoGeo, 29, Article 29.
  7. Calderaro, A. (2016). Internet Governance Capacity Building in Post-Authoritarian Contexts Telecom Reform and Human Rights in Myanmar.
  8. Chow, J. T., & Easley, L.-E. (2016). Persuading Pariahs: Myanmar's Strategic Decision to Pursue Reform and Opening. Pacific Affairs, 89(3), 521-542.
  9. Colaresi, M., & Thompson, W. R. (2002). Strategic Rivalries, Protracted Conflict, and Crisis Escalation. Journal of Peace Research, 39(3), 263-287.
  10. Ganesan, N. (2011). Myanmar-China Relations: Interlocking Interests but Independent Output. Japanese Journal of Political Science, 12(1), 95-111.
  11. Goh, E. (Ed.). (2016). Rising China's Influence in Developing Asia. Oxford University Press.
  12. Goh, E., & Steinberg, D. I. (2016). Myanmar's Management of China's Influence: From Mutual Benefit to Mutual Dependence. In E. Goh (Ed.), Rising China's Influence in Developing Asia (pp. 55-79). Oxford University Press.
  13. Gong, X. (2018). China Power Investment Corporation in Myanmar. In A. Arduino & X. Gong (Eds.), Securing the Belt and Road Initiative: Risk Assessment, Private Security and Special Insurances Along the New Wave of Chinese Outbound Investments (pp. 121-146). Springer.
  14. Government of Japan & Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. (2016). Nichi Myanma (Myanmar) kyoryoku purogramu (program).
  15. Haacke, J. (2011). The Nature and Management of Myanmar's Alignment with China: The SLORC/SPDC Years. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 30(2), 105-140.
  16. Han, E. (2019). Asymmetrical Neighbors: Borderland State Building Between China and Southeast Asia. Oxford University Press.
  17. Hino Motors. (n.d.). About Hino Motors: Hino & the Toyota Group. HINO MOTORS.
  18. JICA. (2019, October 29). Press Release: Miracles of Thilawa.
  19. JICA & Nippon Koei Co., LTD. (2014). Preparation Study on Thilawa Special Economic Zone Infrastructure Development in the Republic of The Union of Myanmar (IL JR 14-031).
  20. JICA & Sanyu Consultants. (2014). Data Collection Survey on Water Resources Potential for Thilawa Special Economic Zone and Adjoining Areas. JICA.
  21. Jones, L., & Hameiri, S. (2020). Debunking the Myth of 'Debt-trap Diplomacy.' 44.
  22. Kasai, T. (2021, March 15). Japan just talks the talk on Myanmar. Asia Times.
  23. Katada, S. N., & Liao, J. (2020). China and Japan in Pursuit of Infrastructure Investment Leadership in Asia: Competition or Convergence? Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 26(3), 449-472.
  24. Kudo, T. (2008). Myanmar's economic relations with China: Who benefits and who pays? In M. Skidmore & T. Wilson (Eds.), Dictatorship, Disorder and Decline in Myanmar. ANU Press.
  25. Kudo, T. (2009). China and Japan's Economic Relations with Myanmar: Strengthened vs. Estranged. In A China-Japan Comparison of Economic Relationships with the Mekong River Basin Countries (p. 25). IDE-JETRO Bangkok Research Center.
  26. Kudo, T. (2010). Myanmar's Border Trade with China: Situation, Challenge and Prospects. In M. Kagami (Ed.), Japan and Korea with the Mekong River Basin Countries (p. 30). IDE-JETRO Bangkok Research Center.
  27. Kudo, T. (2014a). Tokushu ni atatte-Thein Sein seiken to kaikaku (1)-"Post-gunsei" makuake no haikei (Tokushu Mynamar kaikaku no 3 nen-Thein Sein seiken no chukan hyoka). Ajiken Wado Torendo (Asia Research: World Trend), 220, 1-5.
  28. Kudo, T. (2014b). Tokushu ni atatte-Thein Sein seiken to kaikaku (2)-"Post 2015 nen" o tenbo suru (tokushu: Myanmar kaikaku no 3 nen-Thein Sein seiken no chukan hyoka (2)). Ajiken Wado Torendo (Asia Research: World Trend), 221, 2-5.
  29. Kyaw, Y. L. (2020, April 2). Winners and losers at the Thilawa SEZ. Frontier Myanmar.
  30. LaFeber, W. (1997). The clash: A history of U.S.-Japan relations (1st ed). W.W. Norton & Company.
  31. Lam, P. E. (2016). Myanmar: Japan's '"Last Frontier"' in Asia? Asian Survey, 56(3), 512-531.
  32. Li, C. (2012). China-Myanmar Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership: A Regional Threat? Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 31(1), 53-72.
  33. Lintner, B. (2007, December). A Charity's Checkered Past. The Irrawaddy, 15(12).
  34. Lwin, N. (2019, January 25). Infographic: 30 Years of Chinese Investment in Myanmar. The Irrawaddy.
  35. Lynn, A. (2019, December 4). Key Facts About Three SEZs. Myanmar Insider.
  36. Mann, M. (1984). The autonomous power of the state: Its origins, mechanisms and results. European Journal of Sociology / Archives Europeennes de Sociologie / Europaisches Archiv Fur Soziologie, 25(2), 185-213.
  37. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. (n.d.). Japan's ODA Data for Myanmar. Retrieved May 27, 2021, from
  38. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. (2013, April 27). Visit to Myanmar by Prime Minister Abe. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
  39. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. (2013a, June 4). Xi Jinping Meets with Myanmar's President U Thein Sein Stressing the Importance of Steering the Bilateral Relationship in the Right Direction and Unswervingly Pushing Forward China-Myanmar Friendship.
  40. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. (2013b, July 9). President Xi Jinping Delivers Important Speech and Proposes to Build a Silk Road Economic Belt with Central Asian Countries.
  41. Morch, M. (2019). Land Seizures, Protests, and Arrests in Myanmar. The Diplomat.
  42. Muramatsu, Y., & Nitta, Y. (2021, January 13). Myanmar removes Thai builder from Indo-Pacific economic-zone project. Nikkei Asia.
  43. Myanmar Special Economic Law 2014. (2014). The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.
  44. Nichi Mianma (Myanmar) kyodo senmei-Atarashii yujo no ishizue. (2013). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
  45. OECD. (2020). Making the most of economic zones. In OECD Investment Policy Reviews: Myanmar 2020. OECD.
  46. Poling, G. B. (2018). Kyaukpyu: Connecting China to the Indian Ocean. CSIS Briefs, 3.
  47. Pugliese, G., & Insisa, A. (2017). Sino-Japanese Power Politics: Might, Money and Minds. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
  48. Reilly, J. (2013). China and Japan in Myanmar: Aid, Natural Resources and Influence. Asian Studies Review, 37(2), 141-157.
  49. Rippa, A., & Saxer, M. (2016). Mong La: Business as Usual in the China-Myanmar Borderlands. Cross-Currents e-Journal, 19.
  50. Scott, J. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press.
  51. Seifu intanetto terebi. (2013, May 25). Myanma (Myanmar) renbo kyowa koku homon-Heisei 25nen 5gatsu 25nichi.
  52. Soja, E. W. (1989). Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. Verso.
  53. Steinberg, D. I. (1991). Democracy, Power, and the Economy in Myanmar: Donor Dilemmas. Asian Survey, 31(8), 729-742.
  54. Strefford, P. (2005). Japanese ODA to Myanmar: Resulting from the Mutual Dependence it Created. Journal of International Cooperation Studies, 13(2), 109-133.
  55. Strefford, P. (2016). Japan's Bounty in Myanmar. Asian Survey, 56(3), 488-511.
  56. Takeda, I. (2001). Japan's Myanmar Policy: Four Principles. Gaiko Forum, 154.
  57. Taylor, R. H. (2009). The State in Myanmar. HURST & Company.
  58. The New York Times. (2008, June 23). Myanmar's new capital: Remote, lavish and off limits. The New York Times.
  59. The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China. (2021). China's International Development Cooperation in the New Era. State Council, the People's Republic of China.
  60. Thompson, W. R. (2001). Identifying Rivals and Rivalries in World Politics. International Studies Quarterly, 45(4), 557-586.
  61. Thompson, W. R. (2020). Power Concentration in World Politics: The Political Economy of Systemic Leadership, Growth, and Conflict. Springer International Publishing.
  62. Vandergeest, P., & Peluso, N. L. (1995). Territorialization and state power in Thailand. Theory and Society, 24(3), 385-426.
  63. Waijiao bu wangzhan. (2019, December 12). Wang Yi yu Miandian neige buzhang Jiao Ding Rui (Kyaw Tint Swe) deng jiaoliu 王毅与缅甸内阁部长觉丁瑞等交流-国家国际发展合作署.
  64. Wedge Myanmar shuzai ban, & Inoue, H. (2013). Kensho: Mianma (Myanmar) boom. Wedge shuppansha.
  65. Weiss, L. (1997). Globalisation and the Myth of the Powerless State. New Left Review, 225.
  66. Woods, K. (2011). Ceasefire capitalism: Military-private partnerships, resource concessions and military-state building in the Burma-China borderlands. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(4), 747-770.
  67. Woods, K. (2016). The Commercialisation of Counterinsurgency: Battlefield Enemies, Business Bedfellows in Kachin State, Burma. In M. Sadan (Ed.), War and Peace in the Borderlands of Myanmar: The Kachin ceasefire, 1994-2011 (p. 22). NIAS Press.
  68. Xi, J. (2013, February 10). Speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Indonesian Parliament. ASEAN-China Center.
  69. Xinhua. (2015, December 31). CITIC-led consortium wins bid for implementing SEZ in China Daily.
  70. Xinhua. (2017, November 20). Zhongfang tichu jianshe zhong mian jingji zoulang shexiang.
  71. Yang, J. (2019). Competitive partners in development financing: China and Japan expanding overseas infrastructure investment. The Pacific Review, 32(5), 778-808.
  72. Yangon Region Government. (2013). Resettlement Work Plan for Development of Phase 1 Area Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
  73. Yeophantong, P. (2016). China's Hydropower Expansion adn Influence Over Environmental Governance in Mainland Southeast Asia. In E. Goh (Ed.), Rising China's Influence in Developing Asia (pp. 174-192). Oxford University Press.
  74. Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka Keizai-bu. (2015). Ajia koryaku: Indo-Myanmar hen. Yomiuri Shinbunsha.
  75. Yoshimatsu, H. (2017). Japan's export of infrastructure systems: Pursuing twin goals through developmental means. The Pacific Review, 30(4), 494-512.
  76. Zappa, M. (2021). A "post-carbon" diplomacy? Japan's Southeast Asia conundrum.
  77. Zhu, Z. (2010). China's Economic Aid to CLMV and Its Economic Cooperation with Them. In M. Kagami (Ed.), Japan and Korea with the Mekong River Basin Countries (Vol. 3, p. 38). IDE-JETRO Bangkok Research Center.