Bumpy Start for Burma’s Divisive Miss Universe

By Zarni Mann 11 October 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s first Miss Universe in 50 years had a difficult first week. Hundreds of people have taken to social media to disapprove of Moe Set Wine’s acquaintance with a general’s family member, and to raise questions over her status as a citizen of Burma.

The vitriol prompted by the 25-year-old beauty pageant winner has shed light on some strongly held views in Burma today—a hatred of the military regime that ruled until two years ago and a resentment of the former regime’s key patron, China.

Crowned on Oct. 3, Moe Set Wine made her first public appearance as Burma’s Miss Universe at an opening ceremony of the Universities Champions League football competition on Saturday afternoon. What should have been a proud moment turned bitter after photographs of her being greeted at the event by Nay Shwe Thway Aung, the grandson of Burma’s former dictator Than Shwe, become the talk of the town.

Through scorching comments, Burmese Facebook users showed their anger with Moe Set Wine—who will represent the country at the international Miss Universe contest in Moscow on Nov. 9—for associating with the general’s grandson. Some even urged Moe Set Wine to give up the crown.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung, who is the president of the league, has reportedly claimed he is not a friend of Moe Set Wine.

A day later, Chinese media reported on her victory, noting that Moe Set Wine has Chinese ancestry. Then an archive photo was shared showing her wearing a red traditional Chinese dress and it emerged she had finished first runner up in a “Miss China-Burma” contest in 2009. The event, organized by Chinese newspaper Gold Phoenix, was participated in by women in Burma of Chinese decent.

Social network users jumped to the conclusion that Moe Set Wine, who has also been identified by the Chinese name Yang Xinrong, might not have Burmese nationality, and therefore should not represent the country.

A note of congratulations in Chinese, from Green Circle beverage company, fueled the fire, and comments began to associate Miss Universe with China, Burma’s massive neighbor that is often seen as exerting a malign influence over Burma and propping up the previous regime even as it was isolated from much of the world.

A spokesman for Hello Madam Media group, the organizer of Burma’s Miss Universe contest, told Irrawaddy that the organizers would prove that Moe Set Wine is a Burmese citizen.

“She is not Chinese. She was born in Rangoon and holds a Burmese national identity card,” the spokesman, Chan Lin Thu, said.

“We will collect proof and evidence, and will tell everyone. Her parents are from Nant Kham, northern Shan State. In her identity card, her nationality is Myanmar and was born from Shan and Burmese parents.”

Chan Lin Thu said the attacks against Moe Set Wine appeared to be motivated by jealousy.

“We already know who [the attackers] are, but we will not say who they are. We would like to tell them to stop attacking Moe Set Wine. If they don’t we will have to publish to the public,” he said, denying that the winner had a Chinese name.

“Since Miss Universe is world famous event, everyone wants this opportunity. If there was someone else in this position rather than Moe Set Wine, we think she would be attacked like this as well.”

Despite the reams of angry comments directed at her, many also took to Moe Set Wine’s Facebook page to offer their support.

“I greatly appreciate your love and support, especially during these difficult times. I am very glad to have you guys,” she wrote in a short message to Facebook followers.

Meanwhile, an alternative contest has been set up online—under the name “Beauty Pageant Grand Slam—to elect the “peoples” choice for Burma’s Miss Universe 2013. Moe Set Wine is currently ranking 12th out of 82 candidates, behind many other well known models, including the popular Nang Khin Zeyar, the winner of Miss Myanmar 2012.

Moe Set Wine has divided opinion and become a focus for historic animosities. And although the pageant organizers appear to be sticking their controversial choice, she is looking at a tough reign ahead.