The Irrawaddy

Burma Urged to Protect Chinese Interests After Factory Confrontation

Workers tailor and arrange clothing at a garment factory at Hlaing Tar Yar industry zone in Yangon March 10, 2010. Western sanctions that have decimated Myanmar's once-thriving garment sector have led to a rare spate of strikes that have unnerved its military rulers, fearful of civil unrest in the run-up to long-awaited elections. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST) - RTR2BG0H

RANGOON — The latest confrontation between Burmese employees and Chinese management at a textile factory in Rangoon has highlighted anti-Chinese sentiment in Burma, while China remains the country’s largest trading partner.

Hundreds of Burmese employees last week held captive seven Chinese managers and supervisors for hours and broke windows, doors and equipment in the Chinese-owned Hangzhou Baiyi garment factory in Rangoon’s Shwe Lin Pan Industrial Zone.

Police were informed after a Chinese manager reported the incident on social media. Burmese employees later released the Chinese citizens following negotiations with the local police force.

The Chinese Embassy in Burma on Feb. 24 released a statement saying that the embassy had urgently requested that Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Rangoon divisional government “seriously intervene.” The embassy urged them to punish the perpetrators and protect the security of Chinese citizens and property of Chinese enterprises.

Burma’s government promised to protect the safety and interests of Chinese enterprises and Chinese citizens in accordance with the law and properly address the problem as soon as possible, according to the statement.

The confrontation followed a strike, after the company’s sacking of a foreman who had led Burmese workers in their opposition to excessive working hours. Since Feb. 1, around 500 Burmese workers have protested, demanding that the foreman be re-employed and that working hours be reduced.

However, the two sides could not reach an agreement until the third week of February, when Burmese workers locked up seven Chinese managers and supervisors and damaged the factory.

“We’ll issue a statement. These problems happened because they [the factory management] did not accept our legal intervention. We’ll respond,” Ko Aung Kyaw, central executive committee member of the Federation of Trade Unions of Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy.