Florence Chong's picture

LAYERS of resentment have emerged in the traditionally warm relationship between the Burmese and the Chinese . . .

ANTI-CHINESE sentiments have transcended what has long been regarded as "pauk phaw", a fraternal warmth in the relationship between Burma and China, as resentment increases because of growing Chinese economic dominance.
In a paper, Enmity in Myanmar against China, published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, scholar Fan Hongwei traces the end of pauk phaw to as far back as 1988.
Since then, he writes, Burmese perceptions of China have shifted — with both the Myanmar Government and the public developing a "victim mentality" in their relations with China. The Burmese resentment is such that the economic dominance of China in their country is sometimes referred to as "China's 24th province”, he says.
The layering of resentment started from the time when Beijing actively supported Burma’s military junta."Because of Myanmar nationals' fierce hatred of the former Myanmar military
regime and China's support of it, opposing China is to some extent seen as part of the effort to fight the junta and struggle for democracy," Fan writes.
China has been perceived as "a wolf working hand-in-glove with a jackal" by many in Myanmar, especially in the urban areas, Fan says in his research paper.
"In their eyes, the junta could have been weakened much more under Western pressure if China had not supported it. What has been deemed as China's ‘immoral and irresponsible’ Myanmar policy is claimed to have also hindered Myanmar's democratisation."
He says this generated even more resentment among Myanmar's general public, including the Opposition parties, nationalists, democracy advocates and human rights activists.
Then came the wave of Chinese investment. Chinese projects in Myanmar, primarily in the natural resources and energy sectors, are generally seen as failing to bring substantial benefits to the local people.
Indeed, the most notable example of Burmese reaction was the decision to cancel the Myitsone Dam. The investor/contractor, China Power Investment Corporation, made a belated move to win over the Burmese by citing the positive benefits of the hydropower dam project, such as free power supply, technology transfer, increased revenue and job creation.
But that promise failed to stop President Thein Sein from suspending the Myitsone Dam project in September 2011, soon after he took power from the military junta. He also pledged that the project would be halted for the duration of his five-year term. Fan says China's reputation was further tainted by the misfeasance of some Chinese enterprises and businessmen in Myanmar, as well as an inflow of low-quality and counterfeit products.
Indeed, when asked to differentiate Mainland Chinese to those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Burmese respondents told Fan that Chinese investors from Hong Kong and Taiwan employ Burmese and follow local laws. The Mainlanders flaunt local laws and regulations and do not employ Burmese.
"So, we have a good impression of Hong Kong and Taiwan Chinese and a bad impression of Mainland Chinese," he reported of an interview with a respondent in Burma.
Yunnanese have been arriving in large numbers, and together with Myanmar-Chinese, are perceived to have a stranglehold on local businesses, particularly to the north of the country.
The widespread perception of China's dominant economic influence over Myanmar has catalysed and intensified anti-China sentiment, says Fan. During his fieldwork in Naypyidaw in 2012, Burmese parliamentarians told the
author: "Your country, China, is colonising our country, Myanmar. Even the British did not treat us like this during the Colonial period."
The relationship between Myanmar and old Chinese migrants is all right, notes Fan. The trouble is with the newcomers, who live in separate communities, keep their distance from local people, and refuse to accept local culture, according to Ko Ko Hlaing, Chief Political Advisor to the President, in a comment to Fan.
The International Crisis Group report China's Myanmar Dilemma, says some newly-urbanised Burmese from the ceasefire areas have also controversially acquired considerable wealth by smuggling jade, lumber and narcotics.
Fan refers to the work in 2010 of Abel Tournier and Helene Le Bail, who observed that the perception that Yunnanese are colonising Mandalay might be related to the surge in investors from Kachin and Shan States buying property and opening businesses after the ceasefire between the Junta and various insurgent groups.
Fan wrote: "When this author was conducting fieldwork in Mandalay and Kachin State in March 2010, some Burmese stated that ‘we will seek revenge and re-seize land and houses taken by the Chinese'."