Myanmar people threaten to blow up China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline, anger turns to Chinese companies

After the military coup in Myanmar last month, local people’s doubts about the Chinese Communist Party assisting the military government to seize power have not been resolved, despite repeated denials by Chinese officials of their involvement. Recently, some Burmese have turned their anger to Chinese-funded projects and called for a boycott of local Chinese companies.

For more than a month, local people have been increasingly dissatisfied with the ambiguous attitude of the Beijing authorities as demonstrations across Myanmar continue to burn and casualties continue to rise. Several Burmese we interviewed previously said that there are signs that the Chinese Communist Party probably secretly supported the junta’s seizure of power, including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with Tatmadaw chief Min Aung Hlaing shortly before the coup, the arrival of several cargo flights from Kunming in Yangon after the coup, and the appearance of suspected Chinese-speaking military personnel in Myanmar.

But until today, the Chinese government has not used the word “coup” to describe the furore. Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the rise in anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar by saying that the claims were “rumors” and that the NLD and the military had friendly relations with China, and that China did not want to see such a situation arise. However, the Chinese side’s attitude of “not taking sides” has intensified the discontent of Burmese people.

Thet Hlaing Ohn, who lives in Yangon, Burma’s largest city, and works for an international governmental organization, said many locals believe the Chinese Communist Party has been supporting the junta since the beginning.

“The Chinese Communist Party is supporting the Burmese military government because they have been telling the international community that this is an internal matter for Burma and that the outside world should give the Tatmadaw a chance to negotiate and discuss with Senior State Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.”

Burmese verbally threaten Chinese-funded projects

Reuters reported on Thursday that more than a dozen local people held a demonstration along the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline through Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, chanting slogans such as “China-Myanmar gas pipeline will be burned down” and “Chinese companies get out of Myanmar. On Twitter and other social media platforms, more Myanmar netizens have issued threats against the Chinese-funded project.

A recently leaked Burmese government document dated Feb. 24 showed that Communist Party officials had previously asked the military government to provide better security for the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline and to provide it with intelligence on local armed ethnic groups along the pipeline route, the report said. The news instantly angered many Burmese, who have taken advantage of the Chinese Communist Party’s recent repeated emphasis that other countries should not interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs.

Reporters noted that one netizen said on Facebook, “Whether or not to blow up the gas pipeline transiting Burma is an internal affair of our country.” Another netizen tweeted, “Dear China, we can’t continue to supply natural gas, so we decided to blow up the pipeline. This is our internal matter, please don’t mind.”

Construction of the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline began in 2010 and was completed in 2013, the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Myanmar. An agreement signed by the two sides shows that the Chinese side is responsible for the design, construction, operation, expansion and maintenance of the entire project.

Yangon resident Dai Aung Oo said the reason why Burmese people have strong opinions about the Chinese-funded project is that they are not benefiting from it.

“The locals don’t think they are benefiting from these projects. For example, the workers who built the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline in the first place were basically sent from China, and the residents along the route in Myanmar didn’t get the job.”

Tu Guoding (pictured), president of the Zhejiang Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, said the economic shutdown has not made the outlook for local Chinese businesses optimistic.

Expert: Chinese investment may spark public discontent again

Zhang Yong, director of the project’s regulation and control center, was quoted by the official media People’s Daily last year as saying that the China-Myanmar gas pipeline delivers about 16 million cubic meters per day and has been downloading and distributing it in Mandalay and Renangyang for local industrial and livelihood needs in Myanmar since the beginning of its production. But the report also quoted another project manager as saying that as of June last year, the pipeline had delivered a cumulative total of about 26.5 billion cubic meters of gas to China and downloaded about 4.7 billion cubic meters of gas for Myanmar. This means that the vast majority of the gas from this pipeline is shipped to China, with less than 15 percent staying in Myanmar.

China has been Myanmar’s largest trading partner and source of foreign investment for many years, and Myanmar is an important stop on the Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor in 2018, with the Chinese side proposing 24 projects the following year and the Myanmar side agreeing to accelerate work on nine projects.

Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center, a U.S. think tank that has studied China’s economic cooperation with Southeast Asia in depth, believes the Chinese-funded projects are likely to become a cathartic target for locals as demonstrations in Myanmar continue to expand.

“These projects are seen as ‘white elephant projects’ (expensive, useless, flashy government projects) by locals concerned about their potential impact, and they could attract the attention of protesters, which could further fuel their discontent with the military government.”

However, Yangon resident Dai Aung Oo said he did not think the local Chinese would be targeted. He stressed that Burmese do not hate the Chinese; they hate the Chinese government, which supports the Tatmadaw.