Mandalay Chief Discusses Controversial Chinese Magazine Cover with Myanmar Ministry

By Myat Pyae Phyo 25 September 2019

MANDALAY—Mandalay Region Chief Minister Dr. Zaw Myint Maung has sent his views on the controversial cover of a locally published Chinese magazine that has caused offense in Myanmar to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture to aid with the ministry’s response to the matter.

Monthly magazine China Today has come under fire after the cover of its June issue featured an image of the old palace walls in Mandalay with a reflection of a Chinese palace in Mandalay’s moat.

“As soon as I knew [about the magazine cover photo], I gave my remarks to the Union government. I have done my duty,” the chief minister told The Irrawaddy.

While the chief minister did not offer details of his remarks, it appeared he shares the view of the majority of Mandalay residents.

“Even if I wanted to summon the [Chinese] embassy and issue a warning, only Union-level [officials] can do so,” Dr. Zaw Myint Maung said.

Images of the controversial China Today cover went viral after the magazine came out. Many Mandalay residents view it as a Chinese attempt to wield influence in the city, the last royal capital of Myanmar, which since the 1980s has become home to large numbers of Chinese migrants and settlers.

Major fires in the 1980s destroyed large sections of the city amid political unrest and an economic downturn. Many residents who lacked the funds to rebuild their properties in the heart of the city sold up to Chinese settlers.

While appearing to share some of the public’s objections to the cover, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung also suggested it is possible the magazine was trying to highlight common features of China and Mandalay, both of which are home to former royal palaces.

According to local media, China Today’s editorial team said the photo was intended to highlight cultural exchange between the two countries.

A joint publication by the Chinese Embassy in Yangon and China Radio International’s Burmese service, China Today is published in Burmese and widely distributed among Chinese expats, businesses and travel agencies. The magazine often carries promotional articles about Chinese investment and projects in Myanmar and elsewhere in the region.

It is up to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture whether or not to take action against the magazine, said Dr. Zaw Myint Maung.

“There are ethics that neighbors have to follow. They [China] know well about the political landscape of Myanmar, and they should be careful with sensitive issues like this. And we don’t know if they ever sought the approval of a particular government agency to publish the magazine,” U Maung Maung Oo of the Mandalay-based Sein Yaung So civil society organization told The Irrawaddy.

Mandalay-based author Hsu Nget wrote on his Facebook page that the China Today picture saddened Mandalay’s residents.

The photo could cause misunderstanding at a time when Myanmar is trying to establish a federal democracy, he added. He asked the concerned officials to take responsibility for the misleading cover photo for the sake of the longstanding friendship between two countries.