People have reacted angrily to President’s Office Minister Aung Min’s claim that Burma should be grateful to China and not halt a copper mine in the Letpadaung mountain range, Sagaing Division, despite fierce public opposition to the project.
Aung Min, who visited the area on Nov. 26, told protesters including Buddhist monks that China provided aid to the former military regime during the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising and so Burma should not try and antagonize its northern neighbor.
But critics have responded furiously to the former general’s words, especially after the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters at the site on Thursday morning, and said that only the former junta government should be grateful to Beijing for bankrolling the country more than two decades ago.
“It is not right to say this because China helped Burma during 1988,” said Ba Shein, an Upper House MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. “China protected our military regime and because of this our country took 50 years to have political change.”
Thousands of students, monks and activists were gunned down in the street during the 1988 popular protests. While Western nations imposing economic sanctions on Burma as a consequence, Beijing provided aid that helped the brutal military dictatorship hold onto power.
Kyaw Thu, the founder of the Free Funeral Services Society, said, “Our thanks goes to Buddhism, not China. No one helps our country except our people. Other countries, such as the US, they have their own interests and this is why they help our country.
“Maybe the government should be thankful but it is not for our citizens,” added the well known actor and philanthropist.
Pyone Cho, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, said China is our neighbor and so we should stay close to each other, although we must protect our own people’s security and livelihoods.
“The government should be careful about the suffering of people through Chinese projects as they are supposed to be for the people,” he said.
Aung Min said that the previous government signed the agreement for the copper mining project and so the current administration would find it difficult to revoke this. The 62-year-old revealed that Naypyidaw worries about China funding insurgencies in border areas such as previously happened with the now-defunct Communist Party of Burma.
However, Ba Shein disagreed with the minister that this was a viable concern. “It is impossible for China to make problems with Burma regarding the cooper mining project,” he said.
Thiha Saw, vice-chairman of the Rangoon-based Myanmar Journalists Association, said, “The current investment in Letpadaung should be used by the government to judge new foreign investment offers in the future,” adding that the government must think first about what benefits such projects bring for the people. “They must protect environmental policy in order to protect the people.”
Kyaw Thu said the Letpadaung copper mining project, which is run by China’s Wan Bao Company in a joint venture with the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, should be stopped as so many local people have suffered as a consequence.
“They should think like it is their brothers or relatives who have to suffer from the crackdown,” said Kyaw Thu. “They should act by thinking about who has to suffer.”
He added that the government should explain the advantages and disadvantages of such project if they are truly undergoing a democratic transition. “The government should stop their brutal crackdowns as they have done in the past when they point guns and drag people around like dogs,” said Kyaw Thu.