By: Prof. Punit Saurabh
As thousands of protesters returned to the streets of Mandalay on Monday last – as reported widely by media around the world, the military junta of Myanmar stepped up its shoot to kill policy in order to crush the anti-coup movement.
Monday March 15th was an especially bloody day for the protesting civilians, 38 of whom lost their lives allegedly at the hands of the military bringing the number of total lives lost to 138.
That number has since increased.
But what was surprising was the renewed anger of the masses which despite the repeated armed onslaught perpetrated by their very own military, have continued to swarm in droves to the site of the protests.
Other interesting news emerging from Myanmar centers on the repeated attacks on Chinese-run factories in Myanmar’s biggest city which subsequently drew demands from China for protection of their property and employees.
The official response from the foreign ministry spokesmen from Beijing subsequently drew outrage over China’s apparent lack of concern for those killed in protests against last month’s military coup.
The Chinese Government urged the Myanmar army to adopt the severest of measures for vandalizing Chinese property.
Beijing is also widely seen by the civilian population in Myanmar as backing the junta that seized power in a February 1st coup.
It needs to be mentioned that a fair share of the hundreds of garment factories in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, and other major cities are run by Chinese companies who are key suppliers to big-name fashion, sports and household goods retailers around the world.
Many of these firms were setup during the junta rule and flourished with the tacit support of the military.
Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand also have a sizable number of manufacturers running factories in Myanmar that play a crucial role in providing jobs and exports that help keep the economy afloat.
But while private companies of other nations try to integrate themselves with the local population, culture and sensitiveness, that is not so with the Chinese companies and the employees who look down at the local population with contempt, which goes to explain the hate-hate relation with China and anything Chinese.
To add to the trouble, the local population are also opposing the Belt and Road project passing through Myanmar in addition to a gas pipeline which carries gas from Myanmar’s offshore fields to the state energy giant’s refinery in Kunming, Yunnan province (China).
It opened in 2013, as Myanmar’s military was starting democratic reforms.
Hailed by China at the time as a symbol of “mutually beneficial cooperation”, the pipeline and the Belt and Road project have become the targets of public anger over perceptions of Chinese support to the military junta.
The rise in anti-China sentiment has raised questions in Myanmar business circles and in China, not only over the surge of Chinese investment in recent years but for billions of dollars earmarked for a strategic neighbor on Beijing’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan.
Even while the Chinese government was seen siding with the military while its companies were facing resistance from the population, other nations were in an identity saving mode trying to separate themselves from the atrocious Chinese style of dealing with the current issues Myanmar faces.
Taiwan’s representative office in Yangon went so far as to recommend Taiwan-owned companies use Burmese language signs to identify their factories as a “Taiwan Enterprise.”
It also advised them to hang Taiwan’s national flag outside their premises, and to explain to local employees and people living nearby that that their factories are Taiwan-run, not Chinese, to help minimize risks.
Several strategic observers have noted a tacit understanding emanating from Beijing from before the February 1st coup with international media houses and local observers citing a meeting that took place between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who had visited Myanmar on January 11th and Myanmar Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Min Aung Hlaing, who staged the coup on February 1st.
While China is in denial mode, experts in the strategic circle confirm that Beijing has been sending IT experts and supplying military equipment, arms and ammunition to help the Myanmar military regulate the Internet, and to control the mass protests against the coup; something that the civilian population craving democracy are aware of – one of many reasons explaining the anger of the local Myanmar population against Chinese business units.
About the author: Dr. Punit Saurabh is presently serving Nirma University with the Institute of Management in the capacity of Assistant Professor.
He contributes articles on strategic and geopolitical affairs for Nikkei Asian Review, US Naval Institute, Defense News, The Taiwan Times and other defense and strategic journals.
He is on the Editorial board of Technology Innovation Management Review (TIMR) a scopus indexed Journal of Carleton University and Raksha Anirveda, a defence strategy journal.
He has two major projects under investigation from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) along with a multi-Nation Sustainable Tourism project funded by the European Union (EU) of award value 9 lakh Euro.