Expats in Myanmar concerned over China’s growing influence

Published:  26 May at 6 PM
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Expat teachers and volunteers in Myanmar are worried and confused over the government’s increasing friendship with China.

Myanmar’s next elections are due this November, with no postponement due to the pandemic expected. The outright winner is expected to be the National League for Democracy headed up by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, even although the party has lost a good deal of support in the country’s ethnic regions, possibly due to the leader’s increasing ties to China.

Formerly, and mostly due to Suu Kyi’s late British husband’s connection with Tibetans in exile after China’s military takeover of the Himalayan country, its powerful northern neighbour had always viewed the leader with suspicion for her pro-democracy stance. However, the military has a history of close alliance with China for its arms deals and diplomatic support at United Nations meetings, especially during a period when the West was supporting sanctions over the army’s political repression.

Nowadays, Suu Kyi’s reputation is more as an international pariah than as the saviour of her nation, causing her human rights awards to be stripped and Western aid no longer guaranteed. Expats living, volunteering or working in Myanmar are growing increasingly concerned over her seemingly close friendship with China and its potential effect on efforts to develop the country along true democratic lines. Many are working as English teachers in local schools, the larger monasteries, in hospitals or volunteering in groups supporting refugees from the country’s seemingly endless racial violence.

At the present time, self-censorship is recommended and media freedom has been steadily eroded for the past four years, with state control over publications and broadcasters now the norm. For expats who’ve chosen this destination in order to make a difference, the day of decision might not be so far in the distance as the coronavirus pandemic and China’s suspected part in its spread could result in the closure of Myanmar’s borders and the ending of any attempts to improve conditions for the vast majority of citizens.
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