Members of a national civil disobedience movement opposing Myanmar’s coup express their anger at China, which protesters accuse of aiding the generals who overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi.
Anti-coup protesters have gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon over the past week, holding signs attacking Beijing or showing President Xi Jinping swinging over General Min Aung Hlaing, the chief of the junta, by strings of puppets.
Activists have launched an online campaign in recent days to boycott Chinese products. Some have even called for attacks on the gas pipeline from China’s Yunnan province to the Kyaukphyu port in Myanmar, a flagship infrastructure project.
Over the past three nights, the junta has ordered telecommunications operators to stop internet service overnight, fueling speculation on the installation of a “great firewall” censoring the site with the help of China.
“China! Don’t build a firewall to block the internet in Myanmar,” said one of the signs held up by protesters during a recent protest at the embassy.
A junta spokesman on Tuesday denied that China was building a firewall, adding that Myanmar had enough experts to do it on its own.
Chinese officials have sent ambiguous and sometimes contradictory signals about Beijing’s position since the coup. However, young people who took to Myanmar’s streets and social media in hopes of overturning the coup decided that China was involved.
“There is hate speech against the Chinese, calling for attacks or assaults on Chinese nationals or Chinese projects because China has given up ‘The Lady’Said Yun Sun, an expert on Myanmar-China relations at the Stimson Center, a think tank, referring to Aung Sung Suu Kyi.
The resurgence of anti-Chinese sentiment puts Beijing, Myanmar’s largest trading partner, in a difficult position with a strategically important regional ally. It also adds a mercurial element to the protests in a country that suffered deadly episodes of racial violence, including anti-China riots in 1967.
Zhao Gancheng, a foreign policy expert at the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, said China’s most immediate concern remains the potential for further unrest and destabilization to spread in Myanmar. “China is of course mostly concerned that the political situation is getting out of hand,” he said.
Since last week, Burmese social media has been fueled by rumors after a series of cargo flights – confirmed by flight tracking websites – from the Chinese city of Kunming landed in Yangon when the airspace of the country was restricted.
Protesters speculated that the flights contained information technology software blocking the Internet or Chinese soldiers.
Telenor, the Norwegian telecommunications provider which since the coup has posted all orders from the junta authorities on its website, said on Sunday it could no longer do so and was “gravely concerned. by this evolution ”. In a meeting with the Financial Times, its chief executive, Sigve Brekke, declined to say why he had done so.
The Yangon Chinese Chamber of Commerce did little to quell speculation – and was ridiculed by anti-coup protesters – when it urged people not to spread “false rumors” . He said round-trip flights were part of normal import and export routes and included items such as seafood.
Chen Hai, the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar, called the speculation “completely absurd”. He said Beijing had not been warned about the coup and that “current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see.”
The friction brought out the complex relationship between the two countries, whose economic ties are strengthening. Prior to the coup, Myanmar was a growing consumer market for Chinese products. And China has a decades-long history of arms deals and secret trade ties with members of the military elite.
However, China has also had a strong, if at times delicate, relationship with the overthrown civilian government this month. During Xi’s visit to Myanmar last year, Aung San Suu Kyi signed disabled on a series of Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure agreements. China has also backed its government in the face of international condemnation for the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
“In many ways, relations between the two countries have been stable under Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Enze Han, associate professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong. “That’s why I see no reason why China would want the military to come back, with consequences like sanctions.”
In Myanmar, however, suspicion about China’s intentions has grown since the day of the coup. In one of the earliest reports, the state-run Xinhua News Agency described the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and many other government officials as a “major cabinet reshuffle.”
At the UN Security Council, China – along with Russia, another traditional ally of Myanmar’s military – initially blocked a resolution drafted by the UK condemning the coup. However, later in the week, Beijing and Moscow both approved a Security Council. declaration expressing its “deep concern” and calling for the release of the imprisoned officials.
Russia and China also supported a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for the release of the prisoners, but subsequently disassociated themselves from it. Chen Xu, the representative of China, described the events in Myanmar as the country’s “internal affairs”, and said he was working with all parties concerned to defuse tensions “and bring the situation back to normal”.
On Tuesday, Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said, “We have made it clear that we would like to see China play a constructive role in this regard. And this is a message that we have sent both publicly and privately to Beijing, and it is a message that we will continue to send until China is clear in its condemnation of this coup. .
Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington