China has been accused by a US foreign policy institution of "setting the stage for a prolonged and extremely bloody war" in Myanmar – where protesters are being killed in their hundreds in a fight to restore democracy.
Beijing's southeast Asian neighbour has been gripped by violence since February 1, when the nation's military took over, arresting leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected politicians.
Tens of thousands have been taking to the streets to call for their release over the past nine weeks, but they have been met by a shocking level of violence from security forces.
Five hundred and eighty one civilians have been killed in the crackdown and more than 2700 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group. Nearly 50 of the dead are children.
While there has been strong condemnation and sanctions by Western powers – including the US and the European Union – China's response to the coup and the violence that followed has been more muted.
China shaping Myanmar conflict to serve own interests, says expert
Jason Tower from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an American federal institution tasked with promoting conflict resolution and prevention worldwide, said China views Myanmar as a "battleground" for preventing the encroachment of democratic values and Western interests on its periphery.
Beijing has "profoundly shaped the trajectory of post-coup violence and blocked international efforts to restore stability," Tower wrote in an online piece. "Consequently, Beijing will continue to lend cautious support and legitimacy to a tyrannical and capricious military dictatorship."
Tower identifies three key interests of Beijing in Myanmar.
"The first is to maintain stability in the China-Myanmar borderlands, where fighting between the military and powerful armed groups based along the China border will impact China's national security interests," he said.
"Second, China aims to protect and advance a strategic economic and energy corridor linking its southwestern provinces to the Indian Ocean.
"Third, China seeks to prevent the internationalisation of Myanmar's conflicts, particularly preventing Western influence in the borderlands.
"Fallout from the coup threatens all three."
Protesters point finger at Beijing in violent demonstrations
There have been pockets of anti-China protests in Myanmar as demonstrators accuse Beijing of orchestrating or supporting the military takeover.
The violence came to a head last month a large group of protesters began to target Chinese businesses in the nation's main city of Yangon.
Beijing said people armed with iron bars, axes and petrol burned and damaged 10 Chinese factories in the suburb of Hlaing Tharyar. A Chinese hotel was also attacked.
Again this week in Yangon, demonstrators accused China of supporting the coup and demanded a boycott of Chinese products – after Beijing blocked UN sanctions against the country's new military rulers.
Tower argued that China is gradually losing any possible support from the Myanmar public and from the armed groups.
"China's position has set the stage for a prolonged and extremely bloody war – an eventuality contrary to the interests of the Myanmar people, Asean countries and the United States," he said.
Others argue Myanmar conflict doesn't benefit China
But other experts have cast doubts on the idea that China would want a change of government in Myanmar.
Enze Han, an associate professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong, told the Financial Times that China had a good relationship with the civilian government that was overthrown in February.
During a visit by Xi Jinping to Myanmar last year, civilian leader Suu Kyi signed off on a string of Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure deals and China stood by her government when it faced international condemnation over the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
"In many ways, the relationship between the two countries has been stable under Aung San Suu Kyi," Han said. "That's why I can't see any reason why China would want the military to come back, with consequences like sanctions."
While Beijing's opinion on Myanmar's military rulers is unclear, the violence of the junta towards the protesters and civilians continues to escalate.
With many protesters now in hiding to escape arrest, the junta is increasingly taking their family members hostage, according to AAPP.
The head of the military authorities, General Min Aung Hlaing, insisted his militia had dealt with the protests "in a democratic way", in a speech reported this week by state media.
He accused the protest movement of wanting to "destroy the country" and said only 248 protesters had been killed, along with 16 police officers.
The growing bloodshed has prompted fears that Myanmar could slide into broader civil war.
As well as breaking up protests and making arrests, the security forces have also sought to shut off news of the crisis, throttling internet access and independent media.
In response, some activists have started a daily two-page newsletter called Voice of Spring, rounding up independent media reports and publishing them on Twitter.
The military insists that it is responding proportionately to what it says are violent, armed protesters.
It has defended seizing power, pointing to allegations of voting fraud in the November election which Suu Kyi's party won comfortably.