Beijing Tells Regime It Fears Attack on Its Oil, Gas Pipelines in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 24 September 2021

Chinese officials in Beijing and Yangon-based Chinese diplomats are concerned that forces inside Myanmar seek to instigate anti-China unrest and may be planning to attack China’s twin oil-and-gas pipelines in the country. Several informed sources said the Chinese Embassy has conveyed its concerns to the military junta in Naypyitaw. Through the Myanmar Foreign Ministry, the Chinese on Sept. 20 asked the Myanmar junta to “increase security for Chinese projects in Myanmar including gas pipelines”, credible sources said.

The Myanmar junta has alerted its police force, and security analysts believe the loosely organized civilian resistance groups known as the People Defense Force (PDF) may have a plan to sabotage the pipelines.

The pipeline project spans nearly 800 km, comprising twin pipelines running in parallel from the port of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State on the Bay of Bengal through Magwe and Mandalay regions and northern Shan State before entering China. Magwe is currently the scene of frequent clashes between regime forces and civilian resistance groups.

Since the military takeover on Feb. 1, China has repeatedly insisted that the armed forces’ seizure of power from the democratically elected government is Myanmar’s internal affair, including at the UN Security Council (UNSC) and at Human Rights Council meetings.

In February and March, the Chinese Embassy in Yangon faced daily protests demanding Beijing end its support for the Myanmar military. Moreover, anti-Chinese sentiment has emerged among the people of Myanmar in the form of boycotts of Chinese products.

In March, Myanmar people issued a sharp response on social media after Beijing voiced serious concern over the security of its pipelines, saying whether or not they are blown up is an “internal affair”, mocking China’s own rationale for blocking other nations’ attempts at the UN to condemn the military takeover.

In March, 32 China-backed factories in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Yangon were torched amid the regime’s deadly crackdowns on protesters. China accused protesters of setting the factories alight, but protesters denied the allegations, saying the attacks were a plot by the military to justify harsher crackdowns.

Thousands of Twitter users also issued warnings to Beijing, with one saying: “If you are still concerned that what’s currently happening in Myanmar is an internal affair, to blow up the natural gas pipeline that passes through Myanmar is also an internal affair. Let’s see what you say.”

As anti-China protests grew in late February and March, Beijing held an emergency meeting with Myanmar officials from the Home Affairs and Foreign ministries.

Bai Tian, the director-general of the Department of External Security Affairs under the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked the Myanmar military regime, known as the State Administration Council (SAC), to ensure the security of the oil and natural gas pipelines.

In May, a deadly attack occurred on a group of security personnel standing guard at the pipelines’ off-take station in Mandalay Region. Military-owned Myawaddy TV reported on the incident, saying that three guards at the “oil and natural gas station”—as they put it—in Singtaing Township, Mandalay were slashed to death by unidentified attackers. China’s concern only intensified after the incident.

After the attack, regime leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told China’s Phoenix TV that the junta would protect all foreign investment, adding that anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar was just fueled by “politics.”

In late August, Sun Guoxiang, a special envoy who served as China’s point man in Myanmar’s peace negotiations between the previous government and ethnic armed groups, met Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other officials during an unannounced visit.

After the visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We will work together with the international community to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s efforts to restore social stability and resume democratic transformation at an early date.”

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