An Organized Debacle

N.B Chyoi / February 20, 2021

Burmese soldiers on the streets of Myitkyina / Facebook

While introspecting the developments since the declaration of November 8 election result held in Burma, it gives us a fair idea actually where we were heading for. The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi ahead of the convening of New Parliament scheduled for February 1st, 2021 had sent enough signals followed by intimidating statements of Burma Army generals. We must accept that, we fell short of sight to gauge the effect of calculated moves.

China is not bothered much who rules Burma, but they are more concerned about those who can facilitate their investments and executions of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. During the NLD government tenure, approximately 60 Memorandum Of Understandings (MOUs) were signed, but majority of these projects could not pick up despite pressure. China is well aware of the facts that, during this period, their influence was checked by the western powers. The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were very active and raised many concerns over the BRI projects and implications of Chinese debt-trap projects.

All of a sudden compensations were announced for the residents of Letpadaung Copper Mine area in Sagaing Division in January 2021. The unsolicited proposals have been submitted by China based garment manufacturing companies to establish a network of garment factories (12-15) in Sagaing to provide employment to around 20,000 people. It is time to evaluate what lies behind these sudden kind gestures or we will be in fix. The accepting compensation or selling our motherland for personal benefits will set a wrong precedent and actually send a signal that Indigenous Ethnic Groups in Burma have a “price tag”.

Today it is in Sagaing, tomorrow it could be in Kachin, Shan or elsewhere, and in the present scenario the options for negotiations are closed. One must analyze why Indigenous Ethnic Groups are being asked for such compromises whereas Bamars are not affected. There is no need to discuss the relation between Burma Army and China, the senior generals have been holding the stake in Chinese companies executing projects in Burma. On February 1st, 2021, the return of the Burma Army will reverse the game, and one can see how the projects stuck up for years are cleared and work is resumed despite opposition from the local residents. Myitsone Dam in the Kachin State will be in priority, and so will the Muse-Mandalay rail and expressway.

Bringing more investments in Sagaing is mainly to check the influence of Burma’s western neighbour, India, with whom the relations have improved during NLD government term, and lots of projects including joint ventures, defence co-operation are in pipeline. Similarly, China intends to finish the Muse-Mandalay-Kyaukphyu rail project in record time mainly to get hold over Rakhine, and to counter India in the Bay of Bengal. It is also pertinent to keep check over activities of Chinese sponsored NGOs like Social Resources Institute (SRI), Global Environment Institute (GEI) and China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) as they have been influencing the indigenous people in the catchment areas or project sites and with false hopes by highlighting the advantages of BRI projects.

It is also surprising that the members of Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) remain neutral and dismiss this debacle as an internal affair of Burma. Burmese Generals have claimed that they will conduct fair elections, but forget to mention who will decide if it is fair or unfair, themselves or their instructors in the north.

N.B Chyoi is a Kachin lawyer and geopolitical analyst focusing especially on Burma, India and China.

The opinion expressed here is the author’s own, and does not represent the editorial policy of The Kachin Post.