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Activists burn Chinese flag amid growing anger its support for junta

Xi Jinping speaks to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2017. (Ma Zhancheng/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
May 14, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

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.

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 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.