In Myanmar, tensions simmer between locals and Chinese newcomers

Chinese Burmese businessman Win Lei Yi wistfully acknowledged that he had ‘heard the same thing myself’ about how many Burmese were unhappy about a huge influx of Chinese into this city in central Myanmar. The Chinese, and the money and trade opportunities that they bring with them, pose a stiff challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama, who was in Myanmar on Monday. Obama is trying to re-orient U.S. foreign policy from Europe and the Middle East to Asia to compete with China. Photograph by: Matthew Fisher/Postmedia News , Postmedia News. MANDALAY, Myanmar — A Chinese trader beat a Burmese boy in Mandalay’s jade market last week, thinking the youth had stolen about $574 Cdn from him. The Chinese visitor had to be rescued from a hostile Burmese mob.

Everyone in this city of one million made famous in the West by Rudyard Kipling’s epic poem, Mandalay, was still talking about the incident days after it happened. The incident and protests elsewhere in Myanmar over pollution from a copper mine that exports to China have underlined simmering tensions between the local population, including Chinese Burmese who have been here for more than a century, and tens of thousands of relatively well-heeled newcomers who have crossed the porous 2,185-kilometre-long border with China.

Many of them are settling in Mandalay, where both Burmese and Chinese estimate that about one-third of the city’s population may be Chinese. Almost all of the newcomers from China have arrived over the past three or four years.

“So many Chinese have come some local people joke that Mandalay is part of China now,” said Tun Tun, a businessman who buys and sells rice, peas, nuts and sesame seeds. “The Chinese are already the majority in the centre of town.”

The main reason given by the White House for U.S. President Barack Obama’s unprecedented visit to Myanmar this week was to spur even greater democratic reforms than those that began about two years ago.

While welcoming Obama’s push for greater political freedom in this stunningly beautiful, achingly poor country, many Burmese reckon that the president had a second motive. They believe Obama is suddenly interested in Myanmar because as part of his now famous pivot to Asia, the United States seeks to counter China’s influence here.

As the CIA Factbook’s chapter on Myanmar, also known as Burma, states, the country is of strategic importance because it has a long coastline that looks out on important Indian

China has rocky relations with almost every Asian country right now except Cambodia, North Korea and Myanmar. Despite Beijing’s enormous economic clout in the region, there are still opportunities that the U.S. and its allies can and must exploit in Myanmar and everywhere else in Asia because of the local preference for the faraway West rather than the emerging colossus looming next door.

But the U.S. and its allies, including Canada, which will open an embassy in Myanmar next June, have a lot of ground to make up.

China already imports natural gas, copper, teak, gem stones and agricultural products from Myanmar, which is thought to still have vast quantities of other largely unexploited natural resources. Some Chinese are buying farmland for sugar cane and other crops. Chinese companies are acquiring land in and near Mandalay to set up factories.

“(The Chinese from China) aren’t allowed to do this in their name, so they buy in the name of a Burmese person,” said Win Lei Yi, a Burmese Chinese whose jewelry shop now does 80 per cent of its business with Chinese.

The resentment of the Chinese newcomers, who only need five hours to drive from the border to reach Mandalay, partly arises because they have lots of money in a country that does not have any. It is also fed by their reputation for being so hard-headed in business negotiations that they leave little or no profit for locals. There are also dark rumours that some Chinese are involved in the drug

Whether such allegations are true or not, it is perceptions that matter the most in such situations and these ugly stories are widely believed in Mandalay. It prompts many Burmese to openly state their dislike for the Chinese.

“I’ve heard the same thing myself,” Win Lei Yi said wistfully. He acknowledged that many Burmese would rather that there were far fewer Chinese immigrants.

The influx had created an awkward situation where, to paraphrase a Burmese saying, “Even if you don’t love someone, you sometimes have to pretend to kiss them.”

Thu Sui Hnin, a Burmese Chinese who runs a furniture shop with her Burmese husband, acknowledged that relations with the Chinese from China were difficult.

“I understand such feelings because the Chinese are often not fair in how they do business,” she said. “We welcome President Obama and the U.S. What we want is to be friends with both sides.”

Tun Tun, the Burmese agriculture trader, said there were doubts about whether the U.S. and its allies were sincere about their grand plans for Asia. He set the West this challenge.

“Everyone prefers your culture and your products because they are of much higher quality than those from China,” he said. “But we can afford their products. We can’t afford yours. I do business with the Chinese because I have no other choice. Nobody else is buying. We need other options.”

Original source article: In Myanmar, tensions simmer between locals and Chinese newcomersTranslations into Burmese here>>>


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