Anti-China sentiment turns violent in Myanmar and Balochistan


As rebels in Myanmar and Balochistan target Chinese projects, Beijing faces a dual problem in implementing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China-Myanmar Economic Corridor

A 6-lane highway built as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, along the Gwadar coast in Pakistan

Less than a day after the deadly suicide bombing in Karachi by a Baloch lady that killed three Chinese nationals, an underground group fighting the military regime in Myanmar has threatened to attack Chinese interests.

The Baluchistan Liberation Army (which claimed responsibility for the Karachi suicide bombing) and the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) in Myanmar have denounced what they describe as “Chinese exploitation practices to plunder our natural resources “.

The PDF statement made particular reference to Chinese company Wanbao Mining, which, in partnership with Burmese military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings, operates the Letpadaung and Sapetaung-Kyesintaung copper mines near Salingyi in the Sagaing region.

Widespread anti-Chinese sentiment

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The PDF is not alone in targeting Chinese interests, although it is the only group to have attacked them – a sabotage at a Chinese-run nickel processing plant this year and an attack last year on Guards at a gas pipeline sampling station that connects Myanmar’s Rakhine coast to China’s Yunnan province.

Sixteen rebel groups in Myanmar recently released a joint statement, saying mining revenues are “lining the pockets of Myanmar’s top military officials and their cronies”. A PDF spokesperson warned that if these projects are not shut down, they will be attacked.

Also Read: Why India Shouldn’t Miss the Lessons of China’s Misfortunes in Myanmar

Long before the PDF targeted Chinese business interests, more than 30 Chinese-run factories were attacked by protesters opposing the February 2021 military coup.

At the root of popular angst against China is a widespread feeling in Myanmar that Beijing’s unwavering backing and backing of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) had emboldened the generals to overthrow the elected Myanmar government. National League for Democracy by Aung Saan Suu Kyi. The National League for Democracy won a massive mandate in the 2020 national elections.

Beijing backed the military junta in Myanmar and lent it support in the face of Western sanctions, succeeding in the process in gaining permission for dozens of new Chinese projects and concessions.

Most Burmese who want a return to democracy therefore see both their own military rulers and their Chinese backers as obstacles and see them both as legitimate targets.

The PDF, which is the military arm of Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG), has grown stronger. On April 23, they ambushed a military convoy at Tamu near the Indian border, killing at least 15 soldiers.

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon reportedly tried desperately to contact the NUG to prevent possible attacks on Chinese interests, but without much success.

The Baluchis also target the Chinese

As in Myanmar, in Pakistan the Baloch rebels, fighting against the “Pakistani occupation” of resource-rich Balochistan, have identified China and Pakistan as “enemies”. They oppose Chinese extractive projects as well as the Gwadar port project in Baluchistan which was developed as the last leg of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Balochistan is not only the largest and least populated province in Pakistan, but also very rich in natural gas, copper, uranium and much more.

Like the rebel ethnic groups in Myanmar, the Baloch rebel groups fighting for autonomy are determined to prevent China and Pakistan from exploiting the province’s rich mineral resources. They see such exploitation as “enhancement of internal colonization” and China as a “greedy external partner” behind Pakistan’s mighty military. Baluchistan has seen three major uprisings in the past against “Pakistani occupation” and their attacks on Pakistani forces and Chinese nationals have increased in recent months.

China faces a worrying problem on two fronts in the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The two economic corridors hold the key to easy access to the ocean for China to overcome its “Malacca Chokepoint” worries. These two corridors aimed to provide large landlocked Chinese provinces with access to the sea that reduced transport costs for both exports and imports.

India objected to the CPEC because it passes through parts of Kashmir claimed by India but controlled by Pakistan. He is also worried about China’s growing influence in Myanmar, especially given the country’s long border with India’s sensitive northeast where Beijing reportedly backed ethnic insurgencies in the 1960s-70s.

strategic silence

But the Modi government has been reluctant to openly support Myanmar’s democracy movement because it doesn’t want to antagonize Burmese generals for fear of throwing them totally into China’s fold. Pro-democracy groups in Myanmar, however, say the generals are already under Chinese control, so Indian politics is rooted in false premises.

But, since India has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution to the Myanmar imbroglio, it has found it difficult to capitalize on growing popular (and armed) resistance to military rule. The NUG and PDF would depend on Western sources for funds and possibly arms (using the Thai border). India’s support would therefore strengthen them further.

India does not share a border with Balochistan, so any support beyond morality is difficult to maintain. Pakistan has accused India of supporting Baloch rebel groups, especially after Prime Minister Modi raised the issue in his Independence Day speech when he came to power.

It appears that the sharp increase in Baloch rebel activity in recent months is more due to the receipt of a large arms shipment ahead of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Washington is keen to disrupt the Chinese footprint in Balochistan at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Since Iran is suspicious of its Baloch issue in Sistan province and Afghanistan is in the hands of the Taliban, India cannot effectively support the Baloch movement even if it wanted to in response to Pakistan’s support for terrorism. in Kashmir.

(Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC correspondent and author of five books on South Asian conflicts)

Also Read: What Happened to India’s Neighborhood Policy? The answer lies in China’s gains

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