Activists burn China's flag amid growing anger over its support for junta

Beijing has come under fire for projects that fund the regime’s oppression of the people.
By RFA Burmese
2023.05.11
Activists burn China's flag amid growing anger over its support for junta A youth holds a burning Chinese flag at Monywa city center during a protest against the Myanmar junta in Monywa, Sagaing region, Thursday, May 11, 2023.
Monywa Youth Association

UPDATED AT 01:18 p.m. ET on 2023-05-12

Young activists in central Myanmar burned a Chinese flag on Thursday amid growing anger at Beijing’s unwavering support for the military junta.

“We want the world to know that the Chinese government is working together with the fascist military junta in Myanmar that abuses and kills our people,” Swan Htet Bo, chairman of the Monywa Youth Association, told RFA Burmese.

The protest at a traffic junction in Sagaing region’s Monywa city was the latest outburst of disgust with China, which invested money in factories and mines across the country.

In the months after the February 2021 coup, 32 Chinese garment factories were set on fire, according to Myanmar’s Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, and while attacks by anti-junta forces on Chinese projects have damaged the water supply pipeline to the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing’s Salingyi township.

A Chinese-linked gas pipeline and a nickel plant in the Mandalay region have also been attacked.

There has been an uptick in anti-China sentiment in the regions of Yangon, Sagaing, and Mandalay following a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw on May 2. 

Activists say the junta diverts income from China-backed projects and other foreign investment to buy weapons and equipment it uses to suppress those who oppose its rule.

Attack on Chinese pipeline

Thursday’s protest came just four days after a paramilitary group known as the Natogyi Guerrilla Force attacked junta troops guarding an office used to operate a Chinese oil and gas pipeline, located about three miles east of Mandalay region’s Natogyi township.

Anti-junta forces display the munitions they say they used on a Chinese oil and gas pipeline in Natogyi, Mandalay region, May 7, 2023. Credit: Natogyi Guerrilla Force
Anti-junta forces display the munitions they say they used on a Chinese oil and gas pipeline in Natogyi, Mandalay region, May 7, 2023. Credit: Natogyi Guerrilla Force

A member of the NGF told RFA that the May 7 evening attack was planned in response to visits by Chinese officials to Naypyidaw in recent weeks.

“Their actions anger the people of Myanmar because they are supporting the fascist military,” the NGF member said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. “That’s why we attacked the office by firing three 60mm rockets. There was an exchange of fire, too.”

The attack killed two junta soldiers and injured another, he said, adding that the military brought the wounded to Myoma hospital in Natogyi for treatment.

RFA was unable to independently verify the number of junta casualties claimed by the NGF.

The group said that since the attack, the junta has assigned more than 80 security personnel to guard the office, which had previously been assigned 20.

When contacted about the attack by RFA, Thein Htay, the junta’s economic minister and spokesman for Mandalay region, said he was “unaware of the incident” and could not comment.

In an interview, MieMie Winn Byrd, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and Myanmar expert at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, told RFA that the people of Myanmar are "acting out" because they feel "disrespected" by China's public support for the junta.

"And for China, this is the wrong move for them for the long-term security of their interests and their long-term relationship with Myanmar ... because the junta has very little control, less than half the country under its control now," she said. "So, if if China really cares about its interests, it will side with the people and respect the wishes of the people."

Byrd said that "more than 90% of the people are against the military" in Myanmar, suggesting Beijing is betting on the wrong horse.

"In general, China always gets Myanmar wrong, as much as they pay attention to it," she said. "They are always surprised because they're so focused on their interests ... so they miss a lot of stuff. In this particular case, over 90% of the people reject the military. So, if they really care about their real interests, they might want to rethink it."

In addition to Qin Gang’s visit, Peng Xiubin of China's International Liaison Department met with former junta leader Than Shwe and Thein Sein, the former president of Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government from 2011-2016, on a four-day visit to the capital in late April, during which he pledged economic assistance from Beijing.

Qin’s predecessor, Wang Yi, visited Myanmar in July last year, although he failed to meet with Min Aung Hlaing, while China’s special envoy for Asian affairs Deng Xijun has met the junta chief at least twice since December.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

Updated to include comments by MieMie Winn Byrd, a Myanmar expert at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.

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david
May 15, 2023 11:14 AM

the junta chief knows that there is a million dollar bounty on his head , but still pushes forward with his murderous crimes ,, he must think that he is untouchable ,, he should beware of close people around him, and be very careful what he eats ,, a million dollars is a lot of money to someone in myanmar ,, and that applies to both sides ,,