February 26, 2021
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Sagging relations
Image crisis for China to expand influence in Myanmar When protesters against a copper mine in central Myanmar recently took two Chinese contractors hostage, the incident sparked reports about growing anti-China sentiment in a country long reliant on investment from its giant neighbor. Some commentators were quick to link the kidnapping with violent protests in the Philippines and Vietnam against China’s economic encroachment and territorial claims. But anger over the Letpadaung mine at Monywa, about 135km west of Mandalay, predates the recent flare-up in tempers over territory. There is a swelling backlash, from the government level on down, against China’s pervasive role in Myanmar and its unrivaled dominance during the Southeast Asian country’s long economic isolation from the West. A number of Chinese businesses-including Wanbao, the company leading the Letpadaung mine project -are finally recognizing the need for proactive community engagement. Some observers suggest such efforts have come too late. “Anti-China sentiment is definitely on the rise in Myanmar,” said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert and economist at Macquarie University in Australia. ”This is across all strata of society, from business, government, to the ordinary people of Myanmar’s major cities.” He continued: “Much of this sentiment is not without reason, to the extent it is not so much anti-Chinese people as anti-Chinese state
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