Chinese NGOs and BRI

N.B Chyoi / March 29, 2021

Shwe Kokko city project on Thai-Burma Border

As China enters into 6th year of Belt & Road Initiatives (BRI), the role of state sponsored Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), presently operational in five countries including Burma and Nepal, Environmental NGOs such as Global Environment Institute (GEI) and community development group like Social Resources Institute (SRI) needs to be introspected.

These NGOs actually study the interests of people prior to establishment or starting of any project and helps Chinese companies to gauge the resentment of the local communities and ways to appease them. China had faced such opposition in many countries including Myanmar. Classical example is of Letpadaung Copper Mine in Sagaing Division which is Asia’s largest hydro metallurgical copper deposit and Myitsone Dam in Kachin State.

SRI was put to job on the experimental basis in 2014 as there were protests since 2010 in Letpadaung and Myitsone due to land acquisition and relocation of villages. SRI had managed to settle the Letpadaung issue with help of pro Chinese lobby in Burma to the certain extent and financial compensation has been announced in Jan 2021. But the major benefit of putting SRI to work was to continue work in Letpadaung despite protests and they succeeded in that strategy. Basically, these NGOs work as facilitators that needs to be watched constantly.

These NGOs in first phase get the feel of the people and accordingly they float the developments plans for local communities and convincing them of better future. NGOs are following Sustainable Livelihood Framework (SLF) model developed by Britishers, which helps them to determine the quality of rural livelihood. But we must mind that such developments are coming at the cost of our ancestral lands, natural resources and culture. In other words we can say we are selling everything and losing control over everything. It is old saying “once agriculture is lost actually a civilization is lost” and this transformation is irreversible.

Secondly, there is another class of projects though not part of BRI, but in the service of BRI. Such projects are carried by Chinese companies based in Singapore and Hong Kong and majority are private. Recently one such project (Shwe Kokko – New City on Thai-Burma border) in Myawaddy Township in Karen State became controversial as illegal casinos and prostitution became rampant.

China’s strategy to include the Border Guarding Forces (BGF) or Militia supported by Burma Army in expansion of their network specifically on the international borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and India is providing further edge to China expansion plans. Recently, the Burma Army’s State Administrative Council (SAC) removed Terrorist Tag from Arakan Army (AA) as China have interest in Rakhine (Arakan State). Its is a well designed move as China needs BGF to serve their interest along the coastal belt of Rakhine and India is developing Kaladan Project. Northern Burma has already been under their Chinese control so systematically they are extending to eastern and western peripheries now.

In contrast to China, Japanese NGOs are extending aid work such as building roads, schools, digging wells and health centres and this is actually “healing touch” for common man. Japanese civil societies have actually assimilated in the region and it is reason, locals treat them with generosity and benevolence since local communities understand that it is not purely business. Moreover, Japanese also stay away from conversion business as well. This has been the practised by some western NGOs in northern, western and eastern Burma.

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.