In the days after the military coup in Myanmar, as the world watches, anti-Chinese sentiment has gripped almost all sections of Myanmar’s civilian population.
In fact, in the weeks since the East Asian country’s military junta ousted the democratically elected government and placed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in the country’s administrative capital Nay Pyi Taw, thousands of people have come out openly against the military junta and increasingly so against China.
On February 14th, hundreds of younf Burmese gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon shouting slogans against China for its role in supporting the military dictatorship in Myanmar.
They were seen holding handmade and professionally printed placards in their hands, while demanding China stop supporting Myanmar with messages seen reading ‘Stop helping the military’, ‘Myanmar military dictatorship is ‘Made in China’.
Earlier, on February 11th, according to the Myanmar Times, student union leaders from 18 universities across the country, wrote an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging him to recognize the will of the people of Myanmar, and to end military rule and restore the country’s civilian government.
“China should not cooperate with the Myanmar military government as a sign of respect to the Myanmar people who oppose take over. China should bear in mind that the Myanmar people’s endeavor to expel the military government is just like the efforts of other neighbours in Thailand, Hong Kong and other countries across the globe,” student union leaders said in their open letter to the Chinese President.
Even as social media has been banned in the the impoverished Southeast Asian country, Myanmarese living in Thailand, Singapore and other ASEAN countries and around the world, have spared no effort in striking back against the military junta and China by way of their stinging posts on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram.
They have increasingly expressed their concern that China, instead of asking Myanmar’s military generals to restore the Suu Kyi-led elected government, is bringing planes full of Chinese technical personnel and troops to Myanmar.
Though this has been denied and is being called a rumour by the ambassador of the Chinese embassy in Myanmar, locals are finding it hard to trust its largest neighbour, particularly so given the fact that just a few days before the coup, Myanmar military Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, in Nay Pyi Taw.
The top Chinese diplomat reportedly made a trip to Myanmar with the aim of expediting the execution of Belt and Road Initiative projects, including the mega China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), considered as the prime reason behind Beijings tacit support of the coup in the Southeast Asian country.
Connecting China’s southwestern province of Yunnan to Mandalay in Central Myanmar, the ambitious CMEC project will facilitate Beijing reaching the Southeast Asian nation’s Kyaukpyu port, which is of great strategic and economic significance to China as it will give China direct access to the Bay of Bengal, diversify its energy routes, and remove the need for Chinese vessels to travel almost 5,000 km along ocean routes including the congested Malacca Strait.
China is now looking to stock its energy resources and other imports from the Middle East, Europe, Africa and elsewhere in Kyaukpyu, and transport these to China through the already functional pipeline, roads and the proposed rail connections.
Myanmar has agreed to give this port to China on a 50-year lease, later extendable to a total of 75-years.
Given the CMEC’s complexity and investments required to complete all projects under its bracket, the civilian government under Suu Kyi was suspicious of the China-led project, even though her regime had presided over its initial signing in September 2018.
She was reportedly concerned that Myanmar would become the next Pakistan if China was given a free-run over the CMEC project.
Now, against the backdrop of military rule, China is convinced that Myanmar will help it overcome any hurdle preventing the CMEC as part of its strategic Belt and Road Initiative.
This is seen as the reason behind China not yet condemning the coup, but instead pressuring the United Nation’s Human Rights Council on February 12th to issue a watered down statement on the crisis.
The Myanmarese on the street however, now appear determined to fight against the military junta and its backers.
“We love democracy and hate the junta,” said Sithu Maung, an elected member of Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) while addressing thousands of people in Yangon on February 17th.