Do you know the Chinese singer Xusong

China's neighbors are fighting back

For ten years, says Linn Linn, he has been watching a wave of Chinese business people pour into Mandalay, buying companies and driving the residents out of their city. His song "The Death of Mandalay" received tens of thousands of clicks after a fan filmed it at a concert and posted it on the Internet. "No matter where I play, people want to hear this song," says the singer over coffee. He respects Chinese culture and many of the hard-working people there, but the Chinese "give less than they take."

His harsh words and the popularity of his song are a sign of the growing resentment in Myanmar and many other Asian countries about the rise of the neighboring country to an economic, military and political superpower. On the one hand, the concerns are of an economic nature, for example because of the exploitation of natural resources and cheap exports, but they also have a geopolitical dimension when it comes to Beijing's territorial claims or the country's first aircraft carrier, which has just been presented.

"The dissatisfaction of the common people in many countries with China is growing day by day," wrote political scientist Guo Jiguang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in a recent report on the country's security situation. "They are not happy with the role that China has in theirs Country plays. If we ignore the opinion of the local population, then in the long run we will pay a high price. "

"Peaceful coexistence in equality and mutual benefit"

To some extent, China is already paying that price now. Because mistrust makes it difficult to access new sources of raw materials and to conclude new alliances. The United States, which is cooperating on a military level with Vietnam and the Philippines and has also increased its development aid in Southeast Asia, is advancing into this gap.

Myanmar has also moved closer to the West in the past two years. The first beginnings of democracy arose there, and the doors were opened to foreign companies that are now competing with China's state-owned corporations. Political scientist Guo says the U-turn in Myanmar has raised the "alarm bells" in Beijing.

The Chinese Ministry of Economic Affairs stated that there is a comprehensive partnership with Myanmar based on the principles of "peaceful coexistence in equality and mutual benefit", which contributes to stability and development in the region. "China does not want to become dominant through its growth," it says it from the ministry. “We want to secure our national sovereignty and maintain peace and stability. We do not challenge anyone and we do not threaten any country. ”In the past, Chinese officials have always blamed the US for creating unrest and at the same time strengthening the military presence in Asia to“ contain ”China.

China continues to be extremely popular with residents of some countries. For example, in Pakistan, which relies on military, nuclear and economic support from Beijing, while neighbor India has moved to the side of the USA. Historically, too, relations with the Middle Kingdom in the region have seen ups and downs time and again.

"Down with China"

Nonetheless, the negative reaction in many countries shows that the multi-billion dollar aid and investment strategy that Beijing has been pursuing for about ten years has reached its limits. In 2002, China's economic aid to Southeast Asia was $ 36 million; In 2007 it was 6.7 billion, as a 2008 study by the Wagner School at New York University shows. In some countries, Beijing was considered an anchor of stability after the Asian crisis in 1997. And as Beijing's economic power grew, many analysts said that the smaller nations in the region had no choice but to follow China's course.

Foreign policy experts say Beijing, with its aggressive territorial demeanor over the past two years, has lost much of the capital it has built up over the years. This could also be due to the fact that China has only come into contact with the governments and economic leaders and has not also met with the opposition. As a result, people lost touch with policy changes such as in Myanmar.

In Vietnam, the dispute over sea areas has sparked demonstrations. In July, the people of Hanoi shouted "Down with China." At the end of last year, the conflict simmered again when the cables of Chinese fishing boats were cut on a ship belonging to a Vietnamese oil company exploring the South China Sea.

In Cambodia, residents complain that Chinese agricultural companies are pushing villagers off their land. A law was recently passed in Mongolia that makes it difficult for foreign state-owned companies to extract raw materials in the country.

In a November survey in Japan, only 18 percent of people said they had positive feelings about China - the number they have had in 34 years. In the Philippines, which are also arguing with China over sea areas, so many people said in a survey that they do not trust China, as they have not since the survey began in the mid-1990s. A majority in South Korea and Indonesia are also concerned about China's military rise.

New export market opened

There is even resentment in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Tens of thousands demonstrated here against a now rejected plan that provided for compulsory patriotism lessons in schools. In strictly controlled Singapore, a storm of anti-Chinese news raged on websites after bus drivers of Chinese origin went on strike, paralyzing local public transport.

Myanmar became one of China's closest allies about twenty years ago. The military junta in the former Burma had opened a border crossing to China at that time. Trade between the two countries quickly rose to billions. In this way, the regime was also able to cushion the sanctions imposed by the West for violating human rights. Like Russia in 2007, China prevented a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for democratic change in Myanmar.

In return for this support, China got access to Myanmar's metals, wood and hydropower. In addition, there was another export market. Chinese companies built a pipeline that is vital to the country's energy security. A subsidiary of the arms manufacturer China North Industries acquired the majority in a large mine in Myanmar. China Power Investment and other companies have received construction permits for dams.

For a year and a half, however, there have been breaks in this marriage of convenience. Since the citizens of Myanmar can now express themselves more freely, their anger at the alleged exploitation of workers and resources is becoming louder and louder. Many accuse China of keeping the generals in power all these years.

Then, surprisingly, in September 2011 President Thein Sein decided to put the construction of a dam on hold. Chinese investors were also involved in the € 2.7 billion project to flood an area the size of San Francisco. The electricity generated should flow to China. Myanmar said that the will of the people had been taken into account. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing called for the "rights of Chinese companies" to be protected. The chief of the construction company that was supposed to build the dam told Chinese media that he was "totally amazed" by the move.

Activists and monks occupy mine

The hostility is particularly manifest in Mandalay. The city of around one million people is connected to China by a bumpy road. The last king of the country ruled here in the 1880s; glittering pagodas testify to its former size. Mandalay is now the hub for teak, jade and other raw materials that are destined for China. In the city center, dusty rows of shops, gold dealers and companies with names like the "Great Wall Shopping Center" characterize the picture.

Chinese citizens have secured 70 percent of the real estate in Mandalay, reports an experienced realtor. "I'm a businessman, so I try to take money from them wherever I can," he says. "But I'm proud," he adds, and unhappy with how the Chinese have appropriated the country's resources. Cloth merchant Sein Win complains about the cheap goods from China, which dominate the market and are draining the water for local companies. "They keep breaking down," he says.

There are also conflicts in the hinterland. Wanbao Mining, a subsidiary of the armaments company China North, and the Myanmar military own a copper mine that is to be expanded. Local residents have stated that this would mean relocating several villages. During protests, activists and monks occupied the mine for days before the police drove them away with tear gas and water cannons. Wanbao officials have said they have offered compensation to the villagers and that all formal requirements have been met.

Myanmar's dependence on China has long narrowed the country's policy options. The military did little against the armed minorities who control the border region. A conflict with Beijing broke out in 2009 after Myanmar launched an offensive against the militias. Tens of thousands of the Kokang ethnic group fled to China, which became a problem for Beijing. A Chinese government spokesman called on Myanmar to improve the way it dealt with its internal problems with seldom clarity.

Most of the sanctions lifted

But under the surface, the tensions were already greater then, say analysts: the United States reacted to such reports, and many politicians called for more talks with the country. After the 2010 elections, Myanmar got a nominally civilian government, but it was led by former officers. At the same time, the country sent signals that it wanted to improve its relations with the West. The new government released prisoners, lifted media restrictions, and modernized the economy to attract foreign investors.

Washington felt encouraged by dissidents who reported that China would pose a greater threat to the country than the notorious military. A list of demands on Myanmar was therefore drawn up, including an appeal to expand the dialogue with the dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. The government complied with this. Washington had lifted most of the sanctions by 2012, and US corporations were pushing for the new sales market.

"China deliberately ignored public protests against Chinese projects and the anti-Chinese sentiment in the country," because the leadership was convinced that Myanmar couldn't afford to forfeit Beijing, writes Yun Sun, visiting professor at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in In a recently published report, Beijing politicians are now facing stiff Western competition in Myanmar and "potentially unfriendly regulations," she writes, as Myanmar is transforming its economic system with Western help.

Myanmar tries to downplay the differences with China. “China is our neighbor. We can't choose our neighbors. So we will maintain good relations, "said Zaw Htay of the President's Office. But times were also changing as the people of Myanmar complained about Chinese influence and the country was also establishing ties with the West." The government is trying to level the playing field . Now Chinese investors have to compete against Western investors. "

- Collaboration: Jeremy Page, Carlos Tejada, Kersten Zhang, Minh Zaw, Sun Narin and Celine Fernandez

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