Embassy protest plan banned as President Xi meets Myanmar leaders
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar authorities have rejected a plan by a group of protestors to rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon to oppose “exploitation of natural resources” in Myanmar as Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Myanmar top leaders.
Xi arrived on Friday for a two-day visit, the first of any Chinese president in 19 years. State counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi greeted him with a handshake on the steps of the presidential palace after a ceremonial welcome by Myanmar President Win Myint and a military marching band.
President Win Myint told reporters at the palace it was a “very historic and important trip”.
Analysts say Xi will seek to reinvigorate stalled infrastructure projects central to his flagship Belt and Road Initiative described as a “21st century silk road”.
The two countries have had a historically fraught relationship, with many in Myanmar suspicious of the tremendous sway China holds over its smaller neighbor, but have moved closer since the expulsion of the Rohingya in 2017 was met with international condemnation.
More than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee western Myanmar after a military crackdown the United Nations has said was executed with “genocidal intent”. China has defended the country on the global stage and is viewed as the biggest obstacle to a prosecution of its leaders at an international war crimes tribunal.
China is the second biggest investor in Myanmar, behind only Singapore, data published by the World Bank shows. Myanmar’s exports to China, its largest trading partner, were worth $5.5 billion in 2018, while imports were worth $6.2 billion.
Hundreds of school children and government staff lined the road from the airport on Friday, waving flags and chanting, “Chinese president!” “May his health be good!”
“China always helps our country when we are in crisis or when we face natural disasters,” said Aye Aye Mu, a local teacher. “They always support us and send donations to us.”
But many in Myanmar view China warily and infrastructure projects have been deeply unpopular, uprooting thousands of villagers and wreaking environmental damage.
Irrawaddy News reported that authorities had rejected plan by protesters outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon on Saturday to oppose the “exploitation of natural resources” in Myanmar, including the $3.6 billion Myitsone hydropower dam project, which was suspended in 2011 but may be restarted.
“We were told that the Yangon regional government did not give permission to gather outside the embassy as it might harm bilateral relations,” said Ko Aung Soe, an event organizer.
According to Irrawaddy News, they were hoping to urge Xi to terminate the Myitsone Dam project, to protect the environment and to have full transparency in investment and other projects. They also wanted to see benefits to residents from investment and projects, an end to illegal Chinese migration and more cultural understanding from Chinese tourists and business owners to avoid misunderstandings.
They planned to give a letter to Xi after the event.
“The Dagon police said we were not allowed to protest so we have changed the plan,” Ko Aung Soe added.
The activists instead plan to gather in front of City Hall on Saturday afternoon. Only four organizers are allowed to walk to the embassy, approximately 4 km from City Hall, to hand over the letter.