Myanmar: China Not So Welcome Anymore

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March 26, 2013: The skirmishing (between troops and tribal rebels) on the Chinese border has ended. But the further you go into Burma the more anti-Chinese sentiment you find. Even the military is angry, accusing the Chinese of selling them second-rate and often defective weapons. Tribal people are angry at the seizure of their land (by corrupt military and political officials) for Chinese dams and pipelines, while non-tribal Burmese (the majority of the population) are angry at what they feel is exploitation by arrogant Chinese (aided by corrupt Burmese officials and businessmen). So any efforts to instead make deals with Western firms are favored. China has to make nice to regain enough popular support to restart those projects in northern Burma that have been suspended (not halted permanently).

Russia is trying to replace China as the main weapons supplier to Burma. Russia points out that many of the Chinese weapons were second-rate copies of Russian designs and that the originals are much better and also inexpensive. This Russian pitch was warmly received and deals are being negotiated. As far as many Burmese are concerned, this at least forces many Western suppliers to offer better terms. The Burmese military was recently granted a $2.4 billion annual budget. That’s 12 percent of government spending and is a slight reduction from last year, and about half will be spent on new weapons, aircraft, and ships. Russia can supply all of that and already has satisfied customers in the region.

The UN is pressuring the government to do more for over 120,000 Rohingya Moslems still living in refugee camps because of violence six months ago. The government is reluctant to help, even though the monsoon rains arrive in two months and will flood those camps. There is a lot of anti-Moslem hostility in Burma. Nationalists and pro-military groups are accused of manufacturing all this anti-Moslem violence, but the hostility has been there for a long time and with the army dictatorship no longer in control, these suppressed animosities turn to very visible violence. That’s how it works when you shift from dictatorship to democracy.

March 23, 2013: Troops restored order in the central Burma town of Meiktila, where fighting between Moslems and Buddhists have left more than 50 dead. This time around the Rohingya Moslems (who are on the coast near the Bangladesh border) were not involved. But the anti-Moslem sentiments raised by the Rohingya violence have increased anti-Moslem sentiments. Most (89 percent) of Burmese are Buddhist with the rest being Moslem (4 percent), Christian (4 percent), Hindu (one percent), and various other religions(two percent). In Meiktila Moslems are about 30 percent of the 100,000 residents. Islam is the most intolerant religion in the region and Hindus and Buddhists have long reciprocated. This has caused centuries of tension that occasionally breaks out into civil disorder. In the current Meiktila violence it was mostly Buddhist mobs attacking Moslem neighborhoods, forcing over 15,000 to flee their homes.

March 20, 2013: Violence broke out between Moslems and Buddhists in the central Burma town of Meiktila. Apparently it began over a dispute between a Moslem shop owner and a Buddhist customer and then escalated.

March 12, 2013: Kachin rebels and the government have not yet worked out a peace deal but have agreed to continue negotiating. China has hosted the peace talks. Until two years ago the Kachin and the government had been at peace for 17 years. But growing anger at incursions by troops, Chinese construction projects, and more non-tribal Burmese in general caused the ceasefire to break down.

 

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