Chinese Managers Released After Capture by Striking Myanmar Workers

2017-02-24
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Employees work at a garment factory in Myanmar's Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone in the commercial capital Yangon, Sept. 18, 2015.
Employees work at a garment factory in Myanmar's Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone in the commercial capital Yangon, Sept. 18, 2015.
AFP

China on Friday called on the Myanmar government to handle a dispute at a Chinese-invested garment factory in Yangon "according to law" after some 300 striking workers smashed it up, holding Chinese managers captive for several hours.

Reports on the dispute have emerged in China's tightly controlled state media, with photographs depicting damaged property and Chinese people huddled together in a room at the Hangzhou Baiyi Garments factory.

The Chinese employees were released on Thursday with the help of Myanmar officials, Chinese consular official Liu Songhai told reporters on Friday.

He said the embassy has asked authorities to arrest and sentence those responsible.

An employee who answered the phone at the Chinese embassy in Myanmar declined to comment further, saying that an announcement had already been made.

"It has come out online, so you need to read that, OK?" the employee said.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing has made "solemn representations" to the government of Myanmar, the interior ministry, and Yangon provincial authorities over the incident.

"We have demanded that Myanmar take immediate and effective steps to ensure the personal safety of Chinese citizens and Chinese-invested property in the country, and to pursue and bring to justice the perpetrators," Geng told a regular news briefing.

Difficulties overseas

An employee who answered the phone at the Baiyi Clothing Factory's parent company in Hangzhou on Friday said the company has no more information about developments there than anyone else.

"We only found out about this online, so we don't know either," she said.

But she said that Chinese companies experience "difficulty" when investing overseas.

"It is definitely hard for Chinese people to set up factories overseas, wouldn't you say?" she said. "I am in the main factory in Hangzhou, and nothing has been happening here."

"We are all just going to work as normal."

The Baiyi factory was set up around three years ago and employs a total workforce of 500, including 10 Chinese nationals as managers, media reports indicated.

The rank and file of the work force are generally Burmese.

The strike appears to have started after the factory rejected the applications of some former employees to return and work at the company, reports said.

The striking workers had already downed tools and blocked the main gate in a series of wildcat strikes since the dispute flared.

Privilege gap

Chinese labor activist Zhang Jun told RFA that there is a huge privilege gap between Chinese factory owners and locally hired workers in Chinese-owned factories in Southeast Asian countries.

"Chinese companies don't have a good reputation overseas, because they don't even respect workers' rights back home," Zhang said. "They are the same when they go overseas."

"The management basically has no respect for the workers, nor for democratic processes. They have an appalling management style," he said. "Now they are exporting it to other countries."

Zhang said Chinese expats also look down on Southeast Asians generally.

"It's not just the Chinese bosses who are like this. The Chinese workers are like it too; they have a belief in their own superiority," he said.

"They look down on local people as poverty-stricken or whatever, which is terrible."

Chinese companies are no stranger to labor disputes, with enterprises across Africa and Asia often embroiled in bitter disputes with workers over pay and conditions.

China is Myanmar's biggest trading partner.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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