Chinese-Made Drones Reportedly Monitor Anti-Regime Protests in Myanmar
By The Irrawaddy 10 April 2021
Russia has provided hardware, digital surveillance systems and new-model jet fighters to the Myanmar military. But what about China? According to Jane’s International Defence Review, Myanmar’s Air Force appears to be using Chinese-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor anti-regime protesters on the streets.
“The sighting of the air vehicle, which is developed by Chinese state-owned … China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), is especially noteworthy given the secrecy in how the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s armed forces] has operated it,” said the report by the British open-source defense intelligence publisher.
The report cited images on social media captured in March showing low-flying drones over Mandalay, where protests erupted after the military seized power from the elected National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government in a coup on Feb. 1.
The images showed two types of drones flying at altitudes low enough to be seen and heard by residents of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city.
Besides intelligence gathering, the drones could also be an emerging psychological warfare tactic designed to intimidate the population, the report said.
“For the Tatmadaw, such deleterious psychological effects could eventually provide a critical advantage as it attempts to pacify a population that is clearly growing increasingly resistant by the day to its self-declared rule,” Jane’s said.
Jane’s said experts believe that between 10 and 12 CH-3A UAVs were delivered to Myanmar between roughly 2013 and 2015 and are operated by the Myanmar Air Force out of Meiktila Air Base in central Myanmar.
China has long been the Myanmar military’s closest ally. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing while visiting Naypyitaw just 20 days before the Myanmar military staged the power seizure and detained democratically elected leaders Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. During their meeting, the senior general shared with Wang the Tatmadaw’s “findings” on its claims of electoral fraud.
Shortly after it occurred, China described the Myanmar military’s takeover—internationally condemned as a coup—as a “major cabinet reshuffle”, and along with Russia blocked an effort by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to condemn it. Beijing and Moscow continued their defense of the military regime at a recent special session of the UN Human Rights Council, insisting that the seizure of power from the democratically elected government was an internal affair.
This stance has prompted anti-China protests in Yangon, leading China to ask the junta to protect Chinese gas pipelines, business interests and citizens in Myanmar. In March, Chinese-owned garment factories were set on fire.
Chinese government mouthpiece the Global Times said 32 factories built with Chinese investment had been vandalized, sustaining around US$37 million (52 billion kyats) in damage.
This month, pro-democracy supporters in Myanmar called for the Chinese Embassy in Yangon to be closed, after China again blocked an attempt by the UNSC to stop the bloodshed in Myanmar by imposing sanctions on the military regime in an attempt.
Thousands of pro-democracy supporters, including prominent activists and celebrities, posted messages on their social media on Thursday and Friday saying, “China Get Out of Myanmar!”, “Get Out Chinese Embassy!” and “We don’t need Chinese Embassy! Get out of Myanmar Right Now!!”
China reaches out to CRPH
Last week, The Irrawaddy broke the news that the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar had for the first time spoken with members of a committee representing elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, amid Beijing’s repeated calls for all parties in its southern neighbor to seek a political resolution to the current crisis through dialog.
A counselor from the embassy in Yangon spoke by phone with members of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). Founded by NLD lawmakers following the February coup as a challenge to the legitimacy of the military regime, the CRPH enjoys popular support both domestically and overseas.
The phone call was the first contact between Chinese officials and lawmakers from the ousted NLD government since the Feb. 1 military takeover. The CRPH previously demanded to meet with officials from Beijing.
Following the report, the embassy on Friday told Reuters it had been in touch with “all parties” in military-ruled Myanmar.
“The purpose is to play the role of promoting peace and discussion, promoting the cooling of the situation and maintaining stability in Myanmar, resolving differences through dialogue and consultation, and continuing to drive the process of democratic transformation,” it told the news agency.
The comment echoed a statement from Wang last month that China is willing to engage with “all parties” to ease the crisis in Myanmar and is not taking sides.
“China is … willing to contact and communicate with all parties on the basis of respecting Myanmar’s sovereignty and the will of the people, so as to play a constructive role in easing tensions,” Wang told a news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual gathering of parliamentarians.
Many believe China is among the few countries that has influence both with the military junta and armed ethnic groups along Myanmar’s northern border.
Top NLD leaders who are now in safe locations say that China has the leverage needed to stop the violence in Myanmar, if it sought such a role.
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