China has factories secured against vandalism in Myanmar but how can it protect itself from anti-China sentiment?

Laura Zhou
·3-min read

Myanmar has deployed more forces to strengthen security at an industrial zone where Chinese businesses are concentrated, said a top Chinese envoy to Asean, as Beijing is increasingly caught in one of its neighbour’s worst episodes of political chaos.

Speaking to Chinese and local media on Wednesday, Deng Xijun, Chinese ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), said the Chinese embassy in Yangon had urged local police to take “concrete measures” to ensure the safety of Chinese companies and employees after dozens of Chinese-invested garment factories were vandalised and torched in the latest outbreak of anti-China sentiment on Sunday.

“The Myanmar side has deployed additional police and firefighting forces to the areas involved to strengthen the security,” Deng said, according to a statement published by the Asia department at China’s foreign ministry on WeChat on Thursday night.

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“China will continue to urge the Myanmar side to take practical measures to stop all acts of violence, investigate and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law, and ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese enterprises and personnel in Myanmar.”

Why protesters in Myanmar are targeting Chinese factories and restaurants

China has invested heavily in the neighbouring country but citing its non-interference policy, it has insisted that the crisis is Myanmar’s internal affair and Asean should play a central role in resolving Myanmar’s crisis.

While the Chinese foreign ministry did not reveal how much was lost on Sunday, Chinese media said 32 Chinese-invested factories in the Hlaingthaya industrial zone in the commercial capital Yangon were damaged. Media reports said two Chinese workers were wounded and there was property damage and loss worth 240 million yuan (US$37.8 million).

It was not the first time Chinese investments were targeted in political turmoil in Myanmar, but the latest violence has drawn attention to the thorny dilemma Beijing is increasingly facing.

Sitting between China and India and facing the Indian Ocean, Myanmar is seen by Beijing as a stepping stone to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean. The China-funded Kyaukpyu port in western Myanmar hosts one end of a massive oil and natural gas pipeline network that runs to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province and could provide Beijing with a direct link to oil supplies from the Middle East.

Suspend Myanmar from Asean if military won’t back down: lawmakers

In an interview with the news website Guancha.cn, Liu Zongyi, an expert at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Beijing had reason to be cautious about anti-China sentiment in Myanmar, which he warned could extend to the wider Southeast Asia region as China’s bitter rivalry with the US continued to escalate.

“In line with the US’ vision of a ‘re-pivot’ to the Indo-Pacific, some forces will take the opportunity to create an anti-China wave in Southeast Asia,” Liu said. “In this regard, we should be prepared in our diplomacy with neighbouring countries.”

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