Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 348, 18 March 2021

Myanmar: Protests escalate and expand to include Chinese targets
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 16 March, the Myanmar government sentenced ten civil servants to prison for joining the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). On the same day, the State Administrative Council (SAC) threatened pro-democracy protestors with the death penalty in townships under martial law. 
 
On 14 March, a clampdown by the security forces killed more than 39 people, marking it deadliest since the coup. The escalated violence has resulted in total fatalities of more than 200 as of 17 March. On 14 March, according to South China Morning Post, more than 32 Chinese owned factories in Yangon were put on fire by a group of protestors. On the same day, two factories run by Japanese retailers were set ablaze along with many hotels and restaurants that are owned by the Chinese. Given the current scenario, on 16 March, the Chinese State Council's state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission ordered their state-owned enterprises in Myanmar to evacuate staff.
 
Issues at large
First, the escalation of violence and a strong resolve of the protestors. Despite the increasing numbers of fatalities and detentions, the protests seem to be escalating in both determination and dimension. According to the Irrawaddy, more than 600 police officers and several more fire officials have joined the protest. Along with the police officials, artists, media persons, students, trade unions, and farmers across the country have joined the movement. Protests have now been referred to as the spring revolution. To worsen the situation, the ethnic armed forces such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have renewed the fight against the Tatmadaw after a temporary truce due to the ongoing pandemic. Protestors are cautious and coordinated while protesting in comparison to the early weeks in February. 
 
Second, the tensions between the Burmese and Chinese, despite the bonhomie at the governmental level. The tension between the local and the Chinese residing in Myanmar has been a source of conflict even before independence in 1948. The situation worsened with growing Chinese investments across the country since 2000 for three reasons: they were joint ventures along with the Myanmarese military personnel; they only recruited local Chinese and brought their Chinese staff; and, they have shown no regards for the impact on the local environment and inhabitants. This persisting anti-Chinese sentiment flared up recently due to China's pro-military regime position in the UNSC and other forums. This could be a reason for the attacks on the Chinese factories, hotels and restaurants. 
 
In perspective
First, the growing anti-China sentiments could have a larger impact internally. There are more than 1.6 million Chinese residing in Myanmar. Since the 2015 election, internal political improvement has attracted an influx of Chinese into the country. There were anti-Chinese riots in the past and during the 1930s and later in 1967; there were several deaths and injuries in these riots. 
 
Second, in the coming months, Tatmadaw may have to deal with another trouble with the KIA. Besides the KIA, several ethnic armed groups are at loggerhead with the Myanmarese military. The resurgence of these conflicts, along with the pro-democracy protests, will be double trouble for the regime. 

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