Beijing faces rising dilemma in Myanmar crisis after torching of several Chinese-invested factories

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Representative Image

Yangon [Myanmar], March 18 (ANI): China faces a rising dilemma in the ongoing crisis in Myanmar after unknown assailants torched at least ten Chinese-financed factories in Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone on Sunday.

After the incident on March 14, where an estimated 74 anti-coup protesters were killed by the increasingly aggressive military, Beijing was quick to urge Myanmar's military leaders to ensure security for its investments. China's state-run Global Times newspaper said it "strongly condemned such barbaric acts", Asia Times reports.

The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar released a statement on its Facebook page in response to some Chinese factories that "perpetrators destroyed, raided and lit on fire."'

"China calls Myanmar to take effective actions and investigate and punish the arsonist in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of the lives and properties of Chinese businesses and people," the statement said.

After China's reaction, the generals were quick to act on the request as they imposed martial law for Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar soon after the factory assault, along with five other townships in Yangon and Mandalay each.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has traditionally maintained close relations with Myanmar's generals, providing them crucial diplomatic backing and investment when they were sanctioned by the West from 1988 until 2013, according to Asia Times.

Dominic Oo writes that China was Myanmar's biggest investor from 1988 until 2019 with over USD 20 billion in outlays, representing 26 per cent of the country's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), according to Myanmar Investment Commission data.

Several controversial Chinese investments include the USD 3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project in northern Kachin state, which seeks to dam the nation's vital Irrawaddy river, flood an area the size of Singapore, and export 90 per cent of the power generated to China. This project was suspended by then-president Thein Sein in 2011 after a public outcry.

Much of Chinese investment has gone into extractive sectors, namely hydropower, oil and gas, and mining, along with textile production.

China is also pumping Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects worth billions of dollars, including a deep-sea port and special economic zone at Myanmar's Rakhine. Chinese investors are also involved in a "new city" project in Yangon

According to Asia Times, with deep and wide commercial and strategic interests, Beijing has found it difficult to navigate a middle path through the coup crisis.

Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai has said the coup was "absolutely not what China wants to see" but avoided denouncing the putsch outright by saying Beijing viewed it as a "change of political situation" and an "internal affair."

Meanwhile, anti-coup protesters have strongly slammed at China's position, indicated by a mass demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon. Placards held by protesters in front of the embassy said "Shame on you, China" and "Myanmar's military dictatorship is made in China."

Protestors have parodied Beijing's diplomatic use of "internal affairs" to take rhetorical aim at its crucial investments in the country, with one string on social media asking "whether the [China-invested] gas pipelines are blown up or not is an internal affair", Asia Times reported.

The twin oil and gas pipelines provide China a crucial transport hedge for its oil and gas shipments from the Middle East, known as a crucial part of the BRI in Myanmar.

"China has the leverage to negotiate with the military as the one who would support Myanmar on a global stage and economically. But will China actually do that, or is it in China's interests to do that?" said one Myanmar analyst.

Ko Eric, a Myanmar expert, and researcher, said that Beijing will probably not pressure generals as they don't want to see a democratically successful Myanmar as it could pro-democratic movements for China.

Moreover, Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, has been accused of providing cameras with facial and license plate identification capabilities which have allegedly helped authorities identify and apprehend protest leaders, according to local reports and rights groups' statements, reports Asia Times.

Huawei has denied it supplied the technology but has not clarified how Myanmar sourced the cameras.

Meanwhile, over 200 foreign and local companies have signed a statement facilitated by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) to state their concern about developments since the February 1 coup.

Not a single Chinese company has spoken out against the military's hostile takeover.

"Many Chinese businesses possibly have too much investment with the generals to dare to speak out... It will benefit future Myanmar-China relations for China to get the support of the Myanmar public," said Ko Eric.

Over 200 people have been killed since the takeover on February 1, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to CNN.

After imposing martial law in six areas of Yangon and parts of Mandalay, mobile network data across the country was cut for a second day on Wednesday, internet monitoring service Netblocks reported.

On February 1, Myanmar's military overthrew the government and declared a year-long state of emergency hours before the newly-elected parliament was due to convene.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, along with other top officials accused of election fraud, have been placed under house arrest. (ANI)