MYANMAR’S RELATIONS WITH CHINA
Some view Myanmar and North Korea as satellites of China and parts of its outer empire. Myanmar serves as a buffer between China and India. China covets Myanmar’s natural gas and its access to the Indian Ocean. In the past couple decades China has emerged as Myanmar’s "closest friend, protector and trading partner." Chinese weapons have helped the Myanmar regime crush ethnic insurgents.
There is big economic gap between Myanmar and China as there is between Myanmar and Thailand . The United Nations ranked Myanmar 138 out of 166 countries in its 2009 Human Development Report. China, by contrast, recently surpassed Japan as the world`s second-largest economy.
Myanmar and China share a 2,000 kilometer border. Large numbers of Chinese citizens have migrated to Myanmar for business and large numbers of Burmese citizens have migrated to Myanmar for work. Many people from Myanmar live in the Chinese border town of Ruili. Merchants form both China and Myanmar have made a fortune from the trade between the two countries. Major Chinese state companies are big investors in the Myanmar's oil and gas industries.
Prof. Sompop Manarungsan of Chualongkorn University in Thailand told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “China is trying to establish an energy security system and a geopolitical foundation by aggressively securing its natural resources and land interests through generous economic support.”
China would like to gain access through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean and make it one of China’s “String of Pearls”—a reference to nations friendly to China that have ports and other facilities that China can use. China is helping the Myanmar regime build a new naval installation with access to the Indian Ocean and is financing the construction of roads in Myanmar that will connect China with these facilities. Some people are worried that Beijing has plans to take over Burma and turn into a satellite province like Tibet.One of the goals of American foreign policy, some analysts say, is to bring Myanmar on board to create a united Southeast Asian front against China in pursuit of long-documented plans to encircle and contain the emerging superpower—in other words using smaller Southeast Asian nations to “tie down” the larger China.
see Trade with China, Burma Road , Military.
Recent History of Relations Between China and Myanmar
In December 2001, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Myanmar and said the country “must be allowed to choose its own development path suited for its own conditions. In February 2006, Myanmar Prime Minister Gen Soe Win was given a warm welcome on a visit to Beijing. He hailed China’s “resolute support and selfless assistance.”
In 2010, when Western nations slammed Myanmar's parliamentary elections as a sham, Chinese leader Hu Jintao offered his "warm congratulations" to Thein Sein for his appointment as president after the elections. In 2009, after Aung San Suu Kyi Sein was sentenced to 18 more months of house because an American swam uninvited to her house, China said, “international society should fully respect Myanmar’s judicial sovereignty.”
In September 2010, Myanmar strongman Gen. Than Shwe visited Chinese and met Chinese Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Myanmar in June 2010 it was the first time a Chinese leader has been to Myanmar since 2001. He met with Myanmar leaders and signed 15 agreements related to a natural gas pipeline, hydropower dams and development assistance. Myanmar’s new president Thein Sein met with Wen when he visited China in May 2011. After $765 million in loan and credit deals were signed Thein Sein said, “China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar’s worthy of trust and has provided vigorous support and selfless help for Myanmar’s economic development.”
Recent reforms in Myanmar have caught China by surprise. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As Myanmar becomes increasingly open, public protests have heightened over China's role in its affairs. "The Chinese are still in a state of shock," said Thuta Aung, head of Hamsa Hub, a business development firm in Yangon, also known as Rangoon. "In the past, they'd partner with the [Myanmar] military and do whatever they wanted as long as they put money under the table. Now villagers have more voice." China has warily watched Myanmar's expanded freedoms, some say, fearful that its own people could make similar demands. "They want us to be stable, but not so democratic," said Ye Naing Moe, director of the Yangon Journalism School, which trains government officials on media skills. "When our government indicated it would end censorship, China wasn't very supportive." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013]
Ruili: Chinese-Myanmar Border Town
Ruili—a Chinese town on the Myanmar border—is a vibrant, anything-goes border with high-rise hotels, neon lights, stores with loudspeakers blasting pop and illegal casinos and gambling operations.. It is quite a contrast from Myanmar. Prostitutes cruise the streets and restaurants and knock on the hotel room doors of foreign visitors. The restaurants, massage parlors and tea house often stay open all night. Ruili was little more than a cluster of huts in 1949. It expanded as a military town, positioned on China’s southern flank. A new six-lane highway connects Ruili with Kunming. Much of it parallels the Burma Road, which is twisty and little used.
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Ruili — its name comes from a word in the local Dai language meaning “a jade green place enshrouded in mist” — is home to a large population from Myanmar, some legal, and others sneaking across a porous border to sell vegetables, trinkets, or sex. Sitting on the far southwestern tip of Yunnan province, Ruili was once notorious in China for its gambling, prostitution, smuggling, drugs and general lawlessness during the 1990s when border trade really began taking off. While those heady days may be behind the city, there is little doubt at the sway Myanmar continues to hold over Ruili. The circular Burmese script adorns many shop signs, people squat by the side of the road eating spicy papaya salad laced with pungent fish sauce, and the Myanmar kyat freely changes hands, though China`s yuan currency is far more popular. Ruili`s residents have become rich on trade with Myanmar, mainly in raw materials such as timber and jade, which once sculpted and polished into intricate and immaculate designs of Buddha or traditional Chinese gods can go for thousands of dollars. [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, January 29, 2010]
Ruili in Its Gambling Heyday
Describing the border town of Ruili in the mid 2000s, when it was a mecca for Chinese gamblers, Mark Magnier, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The vans stopped in front of a yellow building the size and shape of a small airplane hangar. There was little to distinguish it from nearby industrial buildings other than a garish arrangement of pulsing neon flowers near the glass door -- and the nonstop arrival of customers despite the late hour. Inside, a hall the size of two football fields was jammed with eight banks of roulette tables immediately inside the door, a line of electronic blackjack machines against the back wall and 12 pits to the left for a game called heaven-earth-harmony. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2005 //\\]
“The mostly male clientele of the Ruili casino placed bets through a haze of cigarette smoke. There was no alcohol and almost no small talk. A small crowd gathered as one winner collected three thick stacks of bills totaling about $4,000 and stuffed them into the sequined purse of his female companion. The building's interior was bright and clean, with recessed lighting and newly plastered walls. But the gambling machines, chairs and tables were battered, suggesting an operation that has been moved repeatedly on short notice. //\\
"Great, I finally won one," said a gambler placing $5 bets at heaven-earth-harmony, a game in which a pingpong ball is dropped onto a grid, with players betting on where it will land. "It's about time." A businessman from Jiangsu province, who, like many of the gamblers, declined to be identified, said the government crackdown hadn't deterred him. "When business is slow, I go every day," he said, smoking as he rubbed a quarter-sized mole on his right cheek. "Whenever I win, I stop. Over the past few months, I've won $2,400." //\\
"Would you like to go to Myanmar?" a smiling Chinese soldier asked as she guarded the border near the "Union of Myanmar, Silver Elephant Immigration Gate." Visas, even temporary passports, are available, no questions asked, for $30 to $40 from people who have good guanxi with local officials. For those who can't be bothered with formalities, taxi drivers helpfully point out well-worn breaks in the yellow-and-green fence separating the countries. //\\
Chinese Weapons and Myanmar
Between 1990 and 1995, Myanmar received an estimated $1 billion worth of weapons from China, its closest ally. The weapons included attack aircraft, ships, tanks, helicopters, personnel carriers, and small arms useful in fighting mountain-based insurgents such as rockets, mortars, artillery, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and trucks. Myanmar also bought a battleship. In return for the weapons, Myanmar has reportedly given China access to Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal and Coco Island near India, one of China's rivals.
Between the late 1980s and mid 2000s Myanmar is believed to have obtained $2 billion in weapons from China. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At the height of Western sanctions against the repressive Yangon government, Myanmar air force pilots traveled to China's Shaanxi province in the mid-1990s for training on recently acquired A-5 fighter jets. Enthusiasm for the aircraft — and the nation's No. 1 patron — quickly faded, however, due to their unreliability. Former pilot Wunna Mar Jay recalls 20 crashes and numerous dead colleagues among those who used the Chinese version of the Soviet MIG-19. Most died in the cockpit, given a government policy at the time that families of those killed trying to eject received no death benefits. The "Chinese weren't sincere, giving us their junk aircraft," says Jay, now a boxing promoter. "We called them 'flying coffins.'" [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013]
Sanction and Myanmar’s Relations with China and the United States
Many believe the effectiveness of the sanctions was undermined by China, who has also undermined sanctions against North Korea. A restaurant owner in Yangon told the New York Times, “As long as China remains friendly nothing will change. China can provide everything the country needs from a needle to a nuclear bomb.” The U.S. State Department estimated that in 2003 Myanmar lost $200 million because of the U.S. ban on imports. During the same time trade between China and Myanmar was about $1 billion.
Martin Petty of Reuters wrote: “Some experts say sanctions benefit the regime as long as it receives economic and political support from China. Its isolation prevents international interference and investigations into its decades of gross human rights abuses. Energy-hungry China props up the junta financially and offers it political protection by shooting down any attempts to inflict punitive action in the United Nations Security Council. But others suggest China's support is not enough and the generals may be wary of becoming almost entirely dependent on their neighbor for their wealth and protection. The lifelong soldiers are obsessed with security and keen to strengthen their military to fight domestic threats such as ethnic insurgencies or even an invasion by foreign forces. As long as arms embargoes are in place, their access to modern weapons technology is restricted mainly to China and Russia. [Source: Martin Petty, Reuters, November 19, 2010]
When asked if she thought Myanmar’s military regime undertook reforms because it believed that China was gaining too much influence and the generals wanted the United States and the international community as a counterbalance, Aung San Suu Kyi told the Washington Post: It’s not necessarily connected with our relations with China. A lot of officers in the Burmese army have always wanted to have good relations with the U.S. Previously we have had good relations with the U.S., and some of the generals were trained in the U.S. The minister of labor had a stint at Fort Benning. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]
China, ASEAN, the United Nations and Myanmar
China took off a little of the sting and humiliation of the ASEAN snub by pulling out of attending the ASEAN summit in Laos and instead sent its foreign minister to Myanmar, which it described as a “friendly country.” In July 2005, at the same time that Myanmar was receiving a sharp rebuke at an ASEAN meeting in Laos the Chinese foreign minister was visiting Yangon and having meetings of “matters of mutual interest” with the generals there and called Myanmar was a “friendly country.”
China blocked attempts by the United Nations Secuirty Council to put Myanmar on its agenda. Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing told the Security Council, “We are against any willful intervention on the grounds of rash conclusions that a nation is unable or unwilling to protect its own cities. January 2007, China blocked a resolution by the United States seeking improved human rights in Myanmar. China has not been critical of the Myanmar’s regime and its human rights policies as other countries have been.
Reuters reported: “Diplomatically, China provides Myanmar with crucial cover at the United Nations, fending off calls for tougher action demanded by the West on Myanmar's poor human rights record. For its part, Myanmar gives China access to the Indian Ocean, not only for imports of oil and gas and exports from landlocked southwestern Chinese provinces, but also potentially for military bases or listening posts. In October, China's state energy group CNPC started building a crude oil port in Myanmar, part of a pipeline project aimed at cutting out the long detour oil cargoes take through the congested and strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait.” [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2011]
After the crackdown on protestors in Myanmar in 2007 China called for the government to democratize and supported a United Nations Security Council statement that criticized the Myanmar regime and called for them to meet with a United Nations envoy but opposed tough action against Myanmar.
China and Myanmar: Trade, Resources and Aid
Trade between Myanmar and China doubled between 1999 and 2005 to $1.2 billion. China wants access to Myanmar’s timber, energy and access to the Indian Ocean. Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic, “Of all the foreign countries rushing in to exploit Myanmar's resources, China has been the most aggressive. Part of its nearly ten billion dollars in direct investment is going to the construction of pipelines to carry oil and gas from the Burmese coast to the Chinese border—a shortcut that also hedges against the risk of shipping through the narrow and pirate-infested Strait of Malacca. In Kachin State, which shares more than 600 miles of that border, Chinese companies are rushing in to extract gold, jade, and teak, as well as hydropower. As one Kachin activist says, "The Chinese won't stop until they've sucked us dry." [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011]
In May 2011, Reuters reported, Myanmar and China sealed their friendship with loan and credit line agreements worth more than $765 million."China is a friendly neighbour of Myanmar's worthy of trust and has provided vigorous support and selfless help for Myanmar's economic development," Myanmar's new civilian president, Thein Sein, told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, state television reported.Wen said China was willing to provide what help it can to help Myanmar's development and ensure the "smooth progress" of oil and gas pipelines being built across Myanmar into southwestern China, seen as crucial to China's energy security.” [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2011 :::]
Thein Sein and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed nine agreements, including a cooperation framework agreement for a 540 million euro line of credit from China Development Bank to Myanmar's Ministry of Taxation and Finance. Other loan deals were agreed between various Chinese and Myanmar ministries, while another covered a hydroelectric project. Bilateral trade between China and Myanmar rose more than half last year to $4.4 billion, and China's investment in Myanmar reached $12.3 billion in 2010, according to Chinese figures, with a strong focus on natural resources and energy projects. Xinhua said China's largest privately owned automaker, Chery Automobile, was planning a car plant in Myanmar with annual capacity of up to 5,000 of its compact QQ model. The news agency did not say when the factory may begin production.” :::
“The lucrative trade between China and Burma is centered in the Chinese border towns of Ruili and Wanding, where consumer goods from China and jade and heroin from Burma are sold and hundreds of thousands of Chinese gamblers have sought their fortune. The border towns are filled with karaokes, casinos and bars patronized by Chinese. Burmese and minorities such as the Wa are getting rich through the trade. :::
“China is counting on a crude oil pipeline across Myanmar that will carry oil from the Indian Ocean to China’s landlocked, impoverished southwest. China outbid India to gain access to oil and gas fields off Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal and is now beginning to work on a $5.6 billion venture to exploit offshore gas fields and build a 1,000-kilometers pipeline from the fields to Yunnan Province. There are plans for e second pipeline from the Myanmar coast that would carry oil from Middle East and African tankers to China, allowing the tankers to skip the treacherous journey through the Straits of Malacca. :::
China Tops Thailand as Biggest Investor in Myanmar
In February 2011, Associated Press reported: “China, already Myanmar's closest diplomatic ally, is now also the country's largest foreign investor, a report said. The Myanmar-language Weekly Eleven says that China poured more than $3 billion into the country from November last year through January this year, bringing its cumulative investment since 1988 to $9.6 billion, compared to Thailand's $9.56 billion. [Source: AP, February 21, 2011 **]
Thailand had been the largest investor for the past seven years, mostly in the energy sector. Hong Kong is the third biggest investor, with $5.9 billion. The report said China's major new investments were in hydropower projects. Another major Chinese investment is the Shwe natural gas project in Myanmar's western Rakhine State, which involves China importing gas from offshore Myanmar wells and oil from tankers from the Middle East through a 750-mile (1,200 kilometer) oil and gas pipeline. **
There have been no major new Western investments in recent years because of tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Washington to pressure the military government to restore democracy and improve its human rights record. **
Myanmar Immigrants in China
Myanmar has become a supplier of day laborers in southwest China as well a source of women and children for marriage, adoption and forced labor. Ground zero for this activity is Ruili, a border town in Yunnan Province that is separated from Myanmar by a flimsy six-foot-high fence that is routinely scaled by Burmese while Chinese border guards look on and taxis wait to take them to their destinations. In the middle of all this are some Burmese babies that are taken to China to be sold and Chinese women headed to the Southeast Asia the sex trade.
Kathleen Speake, a chief technical advisor for the United Nations International Labor Office, told the Washington Post. “Some of the Yunnan women and girls think they’ll get a better job in Thailand.” As for the Burmese, she said, “We’re looking at children being trafficked for adoption, and women being trafficked for marriage.”
Kirsten di Martini, a Beijing-based project officer with UNICEF, told the Washington Post, “China is very big and has a lot of border. In the villages bordering Myanmar, there are some people working as matchmakers. And some of them are human traffickers. It’s hard to tell who are the matchmakers and who are the traffickers.” One Chinese matchmaker in Ruili told the Washington Post that economics was behind the trade. She said that the cost for a Chinese bride was around $7,000 while the price for a Burmese one was just under $3,000, including the matchmaker’s $440 fee.
A pharmacist who comes in contact with many Burmese women who seek car sickness medicine for long car ride with their new Chinese husbands has difficulty telling which ones come voluntarily to marry Chinese men and which ones come against their will but said, “For a woman 25 to 30 years, they come voluntarily. For those 25 and younger. It’s hard t tell if the come voluntarily or were forced...They are forced by their economic situation at home. They have no other choice.” The pharmacist said her personally knew of one trafficker who was trying to sell an eight-year-old girl after already selling her mother.
On the various ethnic groups that have made their way to Ruil, Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Zaw Mein, an ethnic Rohingya and Muslim from the southeastern Myanmar coastal state of Arakan, has little time for the politics of his sometimes chaotic homeland. He just wants to earn enough for his family back in Myanmar. “What choice do we have but to come to China to work?” he said, standing in Ruili`s sprawling jade market. “China gives us visas easily. Not many other countries will.” It`s not only the Rohingya who come to Ruili, though. Yunnan is home to many ethnic minorities whose populations are on both sides of the border. China`s Jingpo are the same as Myanmar`s Kachin, many of whom have for decades been involved in armed rebellion in the mountains of northeastern Myanmar. The frontier means little to them, and in any case the two sides are separated by no more than a ditch and scanty bamboo groves in some villages. “We`re lucky to live in China,” said Jingme, who like many ethnic Dai uses only one name, and whose village is half in China and half in Myanmar. Her aunt crosses every day to look after her nephews. “But we are one people. How can we not feel bad for our friends and relatives on the other side?” [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, January 29th, 2010]
Myanmar’s Women Forced to Be Chinese Brides
Some girls and young women are kidnaped and taken to China and sold as brides. David Eimer wrote in The Telegraph, “Aba was just 12-years-old when she left her hometown of Muse in Burma to visit Yunnan Province in China's far southwest. When she crossed the border, she was expecting to spend only a few hours away from home. But it would be three long years before Aba saw her family again. Like thousands of other young girls and women from Burma, she had been duped into coming to China so she could be sold into a forced marriage to one of the growing number of Chinese men who – because there are not enough girl babies born in China – cannot find wives any other way. [Source: David Eimer, The Telegraph, September 4, 2011 <>]
“During her time in China, Aba endured routine beatings, while never being able to communicate with her family or even go outside on her own. Above all, she lived with the knowledge that she was destined to be married to the son of the family that had bought her – as if she was one of the pigs or chickens that ran around their farm. "I was sold for 20,000 Yuan (£1,880)," said Aba. "I was too young to get married when they bought me. It was later that they told me I had to get married to their son. I was lucky in a way. If I had been two or three years older when I was taken, I'd be married to him now." <>
“Most people wouldn't consider it fortunate to be kidnapped as a child and sold into virtual slavery. But Aba is one of the lucky ones. Not only did she escape a forced marriage, but she was rescued and was able to return home. For most of the women from Burma who are sold as unwilling brides in China, there are no happy endings. Instead, they face at best lives of misery and drudgery. At worst, they are driven to suicide. No one knows how many thousands of women are trafficked into China each year to be the wives of the men known as guang gun, or bare branches, the bachelors in rural areas who cannot find brides by conventional means. What is certain is that it is a number increasing all the time.
Min Naing, chief of the Special Anti-Human Trafficking Police Unit in Naypyidaw, told The Irrawaddy the root cause of the problem was the shortage of women in China, where decades of the one-child policy has meant there are millions more men than women in the country. Poor Burmese women living in border areas are taken in by promises of a good life, and well paid work, on the other side of the border. The official figures only include cases where Burmese authorities have been able to rescue the victim, and may only represent a fraction of the true number of Burmese women trafficked into China. [Source: Lawi Weng, the Irrawaddy, December 24, 2013]
“Thirty years of China's one-child policy has combined with the traditional Chinese preference for male children to create a devastating gender imbalance. It is estimated that 120 boys are now born in China for every 100 girls. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that means by 2020 some 24 million men will be unable to find wives. "The one-child policy has had a considerable impact. Where you have a demographic imbalance, you have a situation where women are in demand. Sometimes, that demand is met through legitimate marriage brokers. Other times it is met by non-legitimate means," said David Feingold, the International Coordinator for HIV/Aids and Trafficking in Unesco's Bangkok office, and the writer and director of the 2003 documentary Trading Women. <>
Human Trafficking Trade Between China and Myanmar
David Eimer wrote in The Telegraph, “Desperate poverty and frequent food shortages in Myanmar make it very easy for the traffickers to trick women into leaving for China and jobs that will never materialise. Instead, the women are sold as wives. Prices for the women range from 6,000 to 40,000 Yuan (£560-£3750), depending on their age and appearance. According to the Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (Kwat), a Thai-based NGO that helps trafficked Burmese women, around 25 per cent of the women sold in China are under 18. "The men always want healthy, young women who can produce babies. The women are really just regarded as baby-making machines," said Julia Marip, the head of Kwat's anti-trafficking programme in Yunnan Province. [Source: David Eimer, The Telegraph, September 4, 2011]
Once Aba arrived in Ruili, a scruffy border town in Yunnan that is the main transit point for trafficked women from Burma, she was sold to a family who owned a cotton farm in the northeast of China. Now almost 16 and pretty with a shy smile, Aba is one of three children of a casual labourer and an unemployed mother. Thankfully, Aba escaped being paraded in public in front of potential buyers, which is the fate of many trafficked women. It is a brutal and dehumanising experience. "Sometimes they'll be sold in markets that are held in parks. The traffickers will put the women in nice dresses and make-up. It's very cruel, because the women are happy to be wearing nice clothes, which they've never had before, and then they are sold like vegetables," said Miss Marip. <>
Problems Myanmar Creates for China
China is concerned about the gambling, drug-running and crimes that occurs on the border between northeastern Myanmar and Yunnan Province of China. According to Reuters: “China has frequently expressed its concern at instability along their often mountainous and remote border, where rebel groups deeply involved in the narcotics trade have been fighting Myanmar's central government for decades. In April 2010, four Chinese workers died during bomb blasts at a dam construction site in northern Burma’s Kachin state. [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2011]
Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “In Chinese towns near Burma, heroin junkies sleep in alleys, waiting for drug shipments from across the border. Inside Burma, domestic instability has made it easy for armed Burmese thugs to kidnap Chinese business people in the country. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post, October 15, 2006]
Refugee Crisis in China Prompted by Fighting in Myanmar
In August 2009, 30,000 refugees from Myanmar crossed the border to China to flee fighting in Myanmar’s northern Kokang region between rebels and government troops, prompting an unusually public show of anger from Beijing towards Myanmar. Many of the refugees had ties with the Kokang militia, an ethnic Chinese rebel group in the Shan state. The exodus was prompted by an assault on the Kokang militia, which had long paid little heed to the central government. The fighting broke out when Myanmar deployed troops to disarm ethnic insurgents. According to news reports about 7,000 Myanmar tropps moved into the area. The Kokang militia fought back and reportedly was pursued all the way to the Chinese border.
Associated Press reported: “Fighting broke out after hundreds of Myanmar soldiers moved into Kokang to pressure wary rebels in the traditionally ethnically Chinese region to give up their arms and become border guards. The junta is trying to ensure stability in border regions where several armed ethnic groups operate before next year's national elections, the first in nearly 20 years. The junta said the three days of fighting killed 26 government soldiers and at least eight rebels, while independent reports said looting was extensive in the region, best known as a haven for drug smuggling and unregulated gambling. [Source: Ng Han Guan, Associated Press, September 1 2009]
People were continuing to cross from Myanmar’s Kokang region into China’s Yunnan province. according to eyewitnesses reached by phone. Sounds of artillery and gunfire across the border in Myanmar rang out throughout the day, they said. Chinese authorities were housing the new arrivals at seven locations and providing medical services, according to a Yunnan government statement. As the refugees poured in from Myanmar, Chinese authorities housed them in unfinished buildings, some still with no windows, said a local factory manager in the border town of Nansan who would only give his surname, Li. A worker with an international medical charity said local authorities were caring for about 4,000 refugees. Several thousand more were staying in hotels or with friends and family on the Chinese side, he said. The confrontation apparently began after militia leaders refused to allow their guerrillas to be incorporated into a border guard force under Myanmar army command. Soldiers raided the home of militia leader Peng Jiashe and Peng’s forces began mobilizing. Peng’s troops were forced out of Laogai by government soldiers and a breakaway Kokang faction seeking to overthrow Peng. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 28, 2009]
Reuters reported: “Men who say they were fighting Burmese government troops have poured into China, describing what they call the fall of their long-autonomous ethnic-Chinese region. "The Kokang army has collapsed. We're all on the run," said Chen Bo, who arrived at the Chinese border town of Nansan. Chen said he is a Chinese national who had been fighting for the Kokang forces for money.Chinese nationals caught up in the junta's offensive have accused Burmese troops of attacking civilian targets like businesses run by ethnic Chinese and said civilians also looted property left behind by refugees. "After the Chinese in Kokang fled, after the Chinese businessmen left, the Burmese locals started ransacking ethnic Chinese businesses and property," Yao Fu, a Chinese doctor who had set up a hospital in Kokang, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying."The Burmese military also was attacking Chinese businesses." [Source: Reuters, August 31, 2009 ++]
“The ostensible spark for the clashes was a move against a gun-repair factory the government believed was being used as a front for narcotics manufacturing, but fighting escalated, with Burmese troops taking control of Laogai, the Kokang capital. The Kokang fighting has drawn in other groups including the United Wa State Army, which with some 20,000 fighters is the largest ethnic army. The Kokang militia is officially named the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. Its leader chief Peng Jiasheg, also known as Phone Kyar Shin, was able to retreat to a “safe location.” Most of the refugees were ethnic Chinese that speak Mandarin. Kokang had long served as an anything-goes buffer zone between China and Myanmar where drug trafficking and gambling supported the economy. One Kokang resident told Reuters: “The Myanmar Army aren’t people ‘ they’re like the Japanese army. ++
Reasons for the Fighting in the Kokang Region Near China
Reuters reported: “Tensions have escalated with a government demand that the groups convert their forces into border guard units under the command of the national army. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the regime's demand for the ethnic armies to join the border guard “would greatly reduce their autonomy and would represent a major concession in return for which they are being offered no political quid pro quo by the regime.” [Source: Reuters, August 31, 2009]
Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “Myanmar’s central government has rarely exerted control in Kokang — a mostly ethnic Chinese region in the northern Shan state — and essentially ceded control to a local militia after signing a cease-fire with them two decades ago. The region is one of several areas along Myanmar’s borders where minority militias are seeking autonomy from the central government. But tensions between the government and the Kokang people have been rising as the junta tries to consolidate its control of the country and ensure stability ahead of national elections. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 28, 2009 \\//]
Kokang lies 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) southwest of Beijing and is surrounded by lush mountains in a region notorious for the production and use of heroin and methamphetamines, cross-border smuggling, gambling and prostitution. The region’s links to China date back to the collapse of the Ming dynasty 350 years ago, when loyalists fled across the mountains into present-day Myanmar to escape Manchu invaders. In recent years, the area has attracted a flood of businessmen from China who have opened hotels, restaurants and shops selling motorcycles, electronics and other imports that are either pricey or unavailable in other parts of Myanmar. \\//
Reuters reported: “The International Crisis Group (ICG) found Beijing “was not even forewarned” about the Myanmar offensive against Kokang, and may not wield enough influence to ward off similar campaigns against other, bigger ethnic enclaves in far northern Myanmar. “Tensions continue to rise, and the possibility of conflict between the Myanmar army and the remaining ethnic groups is the highest it has been in 20 years,” says the group’s report. If Myanmar attacks the bigger Wa or Kachin groups on the frontier with China, that could unleash bloodshed, refugee surges and political aftershocks that overshadow the Kokang conflict. [Source: Reuters, September 15, 2009]
End of the Myanmar Refugee Crisis in China
A few days after the refugees began pouring across the Chinese border they began going back. Ng Han Guan of Associated Press wrote: “ A refugee crisis on China's border with Myanmar eased with Beijing saying Myanmar's ruling junta had pledged to restore stability to the area where its troops battled ethnic rebel Chinese authorities housed the refugees in makeshift camps in Yunnan province, and about 4,000 returned home. But many thousands remain, and it was not clear whether they intended to stay. Some camped in unfinished buildings, their laundry hanging from the frameless windows. "Chinese people don't really want to stay over there anymore," said Zhang Suzhen, a Chinese citizen heading back to Kokang to look after her shop. "Some of the people have lost everything they own." [Source: Ng Han Guan, Associated Press, September 1, 2009]
Royston Chan of Reuters wrote: “China dismantled temporary housing for refugees from Myanmar as most headed back to homes and looted shops across the border in Kokang, where the Myanmar army fought an armed militia last week. About two-thirds of the refugees who had fled to the Chinese border town of Nansan had left, with the remainder packing and chatting while rows of blue tents were dismantled. Buses had ferried many of them to the nearby border. China had never officially declared the Myanmar and Chinese citizens fleeing the ethnic Chinese enclave of Kokang as refugees, but had provided food, water and temporary housing to about 37,000 people. Many of the refugees have turned to relatives on the Chinese side of the border, while others who were returning indicated they might be back should violence flare again. "We are afraid of the Myanmar military. I am not sure whether they will try to rule over us," said Yuan Zhishao, 41, a Myanmar citizen. "They do not know how to speak Mandarin, so we can't communicate with them. Many people share my concerns." [Source: Royston Chan, Reuters, September 1, 2009]
By this time Myanmar troops had won control of Kokang, where they allied with a splinter group against the local ruling militia. The Shan Herald reported that fighters of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, which had ruled Kokang since a 1989 ceasefire, crossed into China and were disarmed by Chinese troops. Despite the apparent end to fighting, many refugees remained pessimistic about what they would find upon their return."My friends say there are still not many people in there and most of the shops have been ransacked, although some have been spared," said Peng Zhiqiang, 38, a Chinese businessman from Hunan, who started a clothing store in Myanmar a year ago. "All my things are gone, so there's no point in me staying there anymore. It is also not safe. Everything is gone, so I will wrap up my business there."
Dislike and Distrust of the Chinese in Myanmar
There are many Chinese in Mandalay. Many people from Myanmar live in Ruili. Merchants form both China and Myanmar have made a fortune from the trade between the two countries. The Chinese began moving into Mandalay in a big way in the 1990s. By the late 2000s, 80 percent of the foreign investment in the city came from China.
Many Burmese in Mandalay don’t like the Chinese. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Distrust of Beijing stems in part from fears, particularly in the north, of being overrun by China. "No one likes the Chinese," said Yan Naing, 38, a Mandalay disc jockey. "It feels like an invasion." Residents recall a 1984 fire that gutted downtown Mandalay and was followed by a government order to rebuild quickly using more expensive materials. Many had lost everything, even as Chinese citizens from neighboring Yunnan province appeared with ready cash. "Burmese couldn't compete," said Kyaw Yin Myint, with the weekly Journal newspaper. "Many were forced to sell and leave the city." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013 <<>>]
“Anti-China sentiment had been building for years, say foreign academics, Yangon businessmen and former military officials. That apprehension grew even within the nation's armed forces, where officers believed Myanmar was being exploited by its giant neighbor. The influx expanded after 1988, locals say, when a crackdown on democratic activists spurred Western sanctions. Myanmar fell further into China's arms, especially after Beijing used its U.N. veto to quash Western human rights resolutions. <<>>
“Culture followed the money, locals say, and Chinese red lanterns, barbecue restaurants, lion dances and televised opera washed across northern Myanmar. Also drawing ire is the trafficking of women to southern China, either as sex workers or wives purchased to help rectify China's male surplus. China accounts for about 80 percent of human trafficking victims, Myanmar police reported in late 2012. "The Burmese are very keen to get out of the embrace of the Chinese," said Morten Pedersen, a senior lecturer with the Australian Defense Force Academy. "Myanmar was angry with the sanctions, but it was never anti-Western. They have a traditional view of autonomy and saw they were losing that." <<>>
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Ask residents of the dusty Chinese border town of Ruili what they think of their neighbour and supposed friend Myanmar and one word features prominently — “luan”, or chaotic. This has not, however, engendered much goodwill towards the government of Myanmar. Though nor does it appear to generate Chinese disdain of the often obviously poorer Myanmar citizens in their midst. “We all know how bad the government there is,” said Chinese businessman Li Hai. “It`s poor and horribly corrupt. If I were from Myanmar, I`d want to come to China too.” [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, January 29th, 2010 /*\]
“Ask the Myanmar traders, in their sarong-like longyis and cheap plastic sandals, what they think of China and their answer is completely the opposite — stable, giving them a chance to escape the poverty and mismanagement of their ruling generals. Yet there is little love lost between the Myanmar businessmen, farmers and massage girls who flock to booming China and their host nation. Many harbour a burning resentment not necessarily of their own government, but of the Chinese. /*\
"All these new Chinese now own Mandalay," a shop in Mandalay complained to Newsweek. "they're aren't many Burmese-owned businesses like mine in Mandalay's commercial section anymore. The rest are owned or controlled by a Chinese from the border." “There are so many Chinese in Mandalay, at least half the population now,” Myanmar jade trader Ye Kaw, speaking in the flawless Mandarin he has picked up after many years living in Ruili, China, told Reuters. “We hate them,” he added, when asked how residents of his home town look upon the Chinese migrants, looking fearfully around to see if any of his customers had heard him. “But we have to come here. There is no future for me at home.”
“In Myanmar, there has been growing alarm among some people at illegal mass entry of Chinese into their country through the border controlled by major ethnic armed groups such as the ethnic Chinese United Wa State Army. Anti-Chinese feeling in the former Burma is not new. The Burmese kings, who ruled before the British came, had long been wary of their powerful neighbour. More recently, in 1967, anti-Chinese riots in then capital Rangoon — today called Yangon — lead to the sacking of China`s embassy and dozens of deaths, if not more. /*\
Myanmar and the China-Backed Myitsone Dam
The $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam is located at the headwaters of Burma’s largest river, the Irrawaddy. Standing 500-feet-tall and located in Kachin state in northeast Myanmar, not far from China, the hydroelectric dam is the the first—and biggest—of seven dams slated to be built. Part of a joint venture between China Power Investment (CPI) and Myanmar's regime-friendly Asia World, the Myitsone Dam is expected to have a generating capacity of 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than the country as a whole now produces. [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011]
The Chinese-financed initiative to build the dam was approved by the Myanmar government on the grounds that electricity and revenues it generated would improve livelihoods in an isolated region of Myanmar with poor infrastructure and few economic prospects. Under the scheme 90 percent of electricity generated from it would go across the border to China's southwestern Yunnan province in exchange for $17 billion over a 50-year period. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, July 14, 2012]
Scheduled to be completed in 2019 before the project was suspended in November 2011, Myitsone Dam would have created a reservoir some 766 square kilometers (296 square miles)— an area slightly bigger than Singapore.
See Separate Article: MYITSONE DAM: THE UNPOPULAR CHINA-BACKED PROJECT AND ITS SUSPENSION
China and the Myitsone Dam
The Myitsone Dam has been designed to pump electricity almost exclusively into China’s power grid, despite the fact that Burma suffers daily power outages. The State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of China’s State Council has hailed the dam as a model overseas project serving Chinese interests. Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “As the world’s biggest consumer of energy, China has hunted far and wide in recent years for sources of power — and of profit — for state-owned corporate behemoths such as CPI. The result is a web of deals with often-repressive regimes, from oil-rich African autocracies such as Sudan and Angola to river-rich Burma. Chinese-built dams in Laos and especially Burma will pump electricity into China’s power grid. The dams under construction by CPI on Burma’s Irrawaddy River and its tributaries would, if completed, be capable of generating roughly as much electricity as China’s gigantic Three Gorges Dam. Ninety percent of that energy would go to China. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, November 7, 2011 :::]
“CPI has reacted angrily to assertions that the project will benefit mainly China. “People who hold such a wrong viewpoint either don’t understand the situation or have ulterior motives,” Lu Qizhou, the company’s Beijing-based Communist Party secretary and president, said. He cited hundreds of miles of new roads, better flood control and other benefits for Burma. But China’s own government, in an August 2011 report by the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, hailed CPI’s Burma venture as a model of party-led overseas expansion in pursuit of Chinese interests. The report noted that the dam project “principally serves our nation’s southern power grid” in a national strategy to boost electricity supplies to boom towns in China’s east. :::
“CPI said that Burma’s market is not big enough to “digest all the electricity” due to be generated. A CPI-commissioned study of the environmental and social consequences of the project acknowledged “some unavoidable adverse impact” but said that overall, it would have “significant benefits in terms of society, economy and the environment.” It blamed opposition to the project on “fake propaganda by partial organizations.” The company’s secrecy also stirred suspicions in Burma. But it won plaudits in Beijing. The report by China’s state-owned assets agency praised CPI’s Communist Party units for their “closed management” and described the project site as “an isolated island floating above the national soil of Burma.” :::
Myanmar Relations with China Take a Dramatic Under Thein Sein
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Nobody was more baffled by the turn of events in Burma than the Chinese. For years, Beijing had been Burma’s most ardent defender in the U.N. Security Council, the supplier of arms and loans, and a customer for timber, gold, and other resources. But last September Thein Sein, citing “the will of the people,” suspended construction of the $3.6-billion Myitsone dam, which had been financed by China to provide electricity across the border in Yunnan Province. Chinese analysts hinted at a conspiracy— they noted WikiLeaks cables that indicate that the U.S. Embassy had given grants to anti-dam groups—and debated whether the opposition would spread to North Korea or elsewhere. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]
“In Burma, however, people talk about how their country had felt subsumed and taken for granted. The dam was designed to flood an area four times the size of Manhattan, but when Burma asked for a more thorough environmental-impact assessment “the Chinese completely shut them off, saying, We’ve already done it and see no reason to repeat the process,” Yun Sun, a China analyst based in Washington, told me. On another occasion, a delegation visited Beijing to discuss debt obligations at the Export-Import Bank of China, only to discover that the debt had been sold. The representatives were shunted aside and diverted to officials at a state-owned insurance company. Perhaps most damaging, Burmese senior military leaders concluded that Chinese military hardware wasn’t worth the billion or so dollars that had been spent. “Army offi cers are saying to me, ‘The Chinese cheated us. They’ve given us all this crap and taken our resources,’ ” Maung Zarni, a visiting Burmese academic at the London School of Economics, said. *-*
Myanmar Pivots Uneasily Away from China
Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Myanmar's recent pivot from China toward the West, and a more open government, came as a surprise to many outsiders. In rapid succession, President Thein Sein's government suspended the $3.6-billion Chinese-built Myitsone hydroelectric project, held nominally free elections and released political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013 <<>>]
“Yet even as Myanmar rebalances its foreign policy, it's unlikely to fully snub Beijing given China's proximity, growing international clout and the nations' historical relationship, analysts said. Though the Myitsone development was suspended, for instance, it wasn't canceled, and numerous other Chinese oil, gas, pipeline and resource projects continue apace. Even Suu Kyi deferred to Beijing this month, recommending that the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine continue despite local outrage over seized land, health problems and poisoned water. <<>>
“Nor is China keen to walk away from Myanmar's promising consumer market and position astride key Indian Ocean shipping lanes. Even as Beijing warily watches growing U.S. and Japanese business ties, it remains miles ahead. Trade with China grew 46 percent in 2012 to $6.5 billion, according to official figures, while cumulative investment reached $14 billion. <<>>
“In an attempted charm offensive early last year, Beijing sent an environmental vice minister to convince social and ethnic-rights activists of the merits of shared prosperity. But the official, apparently unused to such spirited debate, appeared taken aback by vocal opposition over environmental issues he faced in a closed-door meeting, said Soe Win Nyein, a campaigner with the Green Hearts Environmental Network who was in attendance. "We told him, if you keep pushing this, there'll be serious conflict between our two nations," the environmentalist said. <<>>
Speaking on Burmese relations with the U.S. and China in January 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi said, "I don't think it needs to be an exclusive relationship. It doesn't mean we have to be friends either with the US or China. We need to be friends of both.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014