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Minggu, 14 Maret 2021

At least 18 dead as anti-China protests spiral in Myanmar - NEWS.com.au

At least 18 people have been killed as anti-China protests spiralled into deadly violence in Myanmar overnight.

It all began after a large group of protesters – who for the main part are calling for the nation’s democratically elected government to be released from custody after a military coup on February 1 – began to target Chinese businesses in the nation’s main city of Yangon.

Hearing of what was happening, the Chinese Embassy in Yangon urged Myanmar’s military leaders to take action and impose martial law to protect its citizens.

Beijing said people armed with iron bars, axes and petrol burned and damaged 10 Chinese factories in the suburb of Hlaing Tharyar. A Chinese hotel was also attacked.

On its Facebook page the Chinese embassy said some “factories were looted and destroyed and many Chinese staff were injured and trapped”.

RELATED: Horrific images emerge from Myanmar protests

It urged Myanmar to “take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar”.

The nation’s military obliged and shortly after, gunfire began to ring out and military trucks rolled through the streets in the locked down suburbs of Yangon where protesters had been targeting Chinese businesses.

One police officer posted on social media that police were planning to use heavy weaponry.

“I will not have mercy on Hlaing Tharyar and they will fight back seriously too because there are all kinds of characters there,” the officer said in a TikTok post.

At least 18 protesters were killed, according to AFP, while other local reports said the toll was higher.

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“Three died in front of me while I was giving treatment. I’m sending another two to hospital. That’s all I can say at this moment,” one medic told the agency.

More than 80 people have been killed in mass protests since the military wrenched civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power – a toll expected to rise dramatically after Sunday’s violence.

WHY IS CHINA BEING TARGETED?

The attacks against Chinese businesses overnight come amid a growing anti-Beijing sentiment in Myanmar.

The southeast Asian nation, which shares a sprawling border with China to its northeast, has had a long history of ethnic violence, but since the military coup the anger towards the nation’s Chinese community has increased substantially.

When Myanmar’s army swooped in to arrest the nation’s leader Ms Suu Kyi and others from the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a series of raids on February 1, the move was met with condemnation and disbelief from governments and human rights groups around the world.

However, China had an altogether different view on the proceedings.

A dry news piece in China’s state media the following day described the coup as a simple “cabinet reshuffle”.

“Under the cabinet reshuffle, new union ministers were appointed for 11 ministries while 24 deputy ministers were removed from their posts,” the story read.

Beijing’s public statements in response to the coup have ranged from neutral to mildly critical at worst ever since, with perhaps the strongest criticism coming from an ambassador to Myanmar who said China was “unhappy with the situation”.

RELATED: Exiled government addresses military coup

However, the protests against the military leaders have become increasingly anti-Chinese in their tone in recent weeks.

Many of them believe that China not only knew about the military takeover beforehand, but that they sent soldiers over the border to assist the army.

Alarm bells have sounded over the fact that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met the current coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing while visiting Myanmar just 20 days before the coup.

Disinformation and rumours over Beijing’s involvement have run wild on social media, with speculation that Chinese soldiers have infiltrated the nation and photos of “Chinese-looking” soldiers gathering in cities.

There are unverified reports of Chinese hackers being flown in to build a “great firewall” that would block the nation’s internet access – which has been slashed several times since the takeover.

In response, rallies have been held outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, with demonstrators holding signs in English and Chinese with slogans such as “support Myanmar, don’t support dictators” and “stop helping the military coup”.

“China! Don’t make firewall to block internet in Myanmar,” another of the signs held up by protesters said.

There have been calls to boycotts all Chinese goods and services, and calls to smash up the natural gas pipeline linking China’s Yunnan province to Myanmar’s port of Kyaukphyu, a flagship infrastructure project.

China has hit back at reports of its involvement in the coup, saying the idea that it was sending soldiers and IT experts over in secret flights was “completely nonsense and even ridiculous.”

In a statement, China’s ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai said that Beijing was not forewarned of the coup and that “the current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see”.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has a long history in Myanmar – which for decades has been gripped by rampant ethnic violence.

In particular, ethnic Chinese communities in Myanmar became the focus of racial violence in 1967 in a series of riots that soured relations between the two nations until 1970.

It was a long road to democracy for Myanmar, which wasn’t free of its former military junta until after its 2010 election, in which a civilian government successfully voted in.

Myanmar began to open up to the world after its trade and other economic sanctions were dropped by nations around the world, as a response to its steps towards democracy and an improvement in its human rights record.

However, China’s investments in Myanmar have caused controversy, as Beijing has for decades remained close to its neighbour’s military elite by selling weapons and carrying out deals.

This combined with the ethnic tensions, which have never really gone away in Myanmar, have resulted in a hardened distrust of China in parts of the nation.

Foreign policy analyst James Palmer said that recent Chinese investment projects have been major flash points in Myanmar, particularly the deeply unpopular Chinese-backed Myitsone hydropower mega-dam in the nation’s north.

“(The project) was suspended in 2011 following the move toward democracy,” he said. “Locals have decried the environmental impacts and forced relocations associated with such projects, while Beijing has been keen to get them restarted.”

Just days after taking over the nation, Myanmar’s military announced it was going to restart a number of stalled hydropower projects.

Social media went wild with rumours that this might include the Myitsone dam – which was not mentioned by name the junta’s announcement.

However, experts have cast doubts on the idea that China would actively take part in a military coup in Myanmar or that they would even want a change of government there.

Enze Han, an associate professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong, told the Financial Times that China had a good relationship with the civilian government in Myanmar.

During a visit by Xi Jinping last year, Ms Suu Kyi signed off on a string of Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure deals and China stood by her government when it faced international condemnation over the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

“In many ways, the relationship between the two countries has been stable under Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Mr Han. “That’s why I can’t see any reason why China would want the military to come back, with consequences like sanctions.”

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2021-03-14 21:03:50Z
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