Chinese state-owned enterprises are among the biggest suppliers of arms and military equipment to the Myanmar military, according to an advocacy group Justice For Myanmar and public domain information.
The group has listed 122 top business partners of the military government, which staged a coup on Feb. 1, ousting the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
The five biggest suppliers are listed as China North Industries Group (NORINCO), the Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC), the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp. (CASIC), and the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC).
More than a dozen other suppliers were funded from China or Hong Kong.
A spokesperson from Justice for Myanmar said weapons supplied by NORINCO to the Tatmadaw were being used on unarmed civilians amid mass protests that have followed the coup.
Norinco also runs two copper mines in the country, which have been accused of evicting local residents and polluting the environment, the spokesperson told RFA.
Other Chinese investors include Wanbao Mining (Hong Kong) Copper Ltd., Yang Tse Mining Limited, and busmaker Yutong, as well as several textile companies.
A “Dirty List” published by Burma Campaign UK listed 12 Chinese companies as having ties to the Myanmar military, including most of those already mentioned in this article.
An open secret
Zhang Shengqi, chairman of the Myanmar-Burma Assistance Association, said it is an open secret among Chinese in Myanmar that Chinese companies have been selling weapons to the regime for a long time.
“It is no secret that China supplies arms to the Myanmar military,” Zhang said. “Ten years ago, the Chinese government moved its security defense line south from Yunnan province and into northern Myanmar.”
“It sees the whole of Myanmar as a security zone,” he said. “The stability of Myanmar directly impacts China’s national interest and its security.”
“If Myanmar had gotten closer to the U.S. [under a democratically elected government], then it would have fallen back into an endless civil war.”
China’s international infrastructure investment project, the Belt and Road initiative, currently includes the flagship China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has indicated that Beijing is willing to speed up the construction of the western, northern, and eastern ends of the CMEC.
Chinese state media reported last month that Wang is keen to promote an early implementation of the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zon, and New Yangon City.
The CMEC bisects the northern part of the country and ends at the $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu in southern Rakhine state along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. It includes plans for a U.S.$8.9 billion high-speed rail link from Yunnan, as well as gas and oil pipelines.
China is also increasingly dependent on rice imports from Myanmar, with rice imports soaring from 100,000 tons to 500,000 tons in the past decade, accounting for 65 percent of Myanmar’s total export trade with China.
“The military port and China-Myanmar oil pipeline in the Bay of Bengal in Myanmar will be a crucial strategic supply line, and Beijing has to protect it,” Zhang said. “These military investments and presence in Myanmar will aid its stability.”
“I can say with a clear conscience that the people of Myanmar have no choice,” he said.
Chinese scholar Si Ling agreed, saying that there is a co-dependent relationship between the two countries.
“Myanmar is dependent on China for many things, including technology and personnel,” Si said. “Beijing also has to consider geopolitical factors like the national security implications of what is happening in Myanmar on its southern border region.”
Border area still quiet
A Chinese national who lives in the border region, and gave only a surname, Wang, said that while the authorities appeared to be firing on protesters elsewhere in the country, the border area had remained quiet since the coup.
He said there could also have been Chinese Communist Party (CCP) involvement in emergency censorship during the coup.
“I heard there was shooting … maybe of high pressure air guns, and also that they cut off internet access,” Wang said. “China is the best at this kind of technology.”
Rights groups — including Burma Campaign UK, Justice For Myanmar, Korean Civil Society in Solidarity with the Rohingya (KCSSR), and Korean Transnational Corporations Watch (KTCW) — are calling on companies to cut commercial ties to the Myanmar military.
Meanwhile, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said it had invited 18 of the companies mentioned in recent reports articles to respond.
Justice For Myanmar called on the international community to impose immediate comprehensive and targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military in response to the coup, and their continuing violations of international law, including their campaign of genocide against the Rohingya and war crimes and crimes against humanity in ethnic regions.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Chan Chun-ho for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.