Myanmar Junta Ministers Denounce West in Plea for Chinese Investment

By Agga Aung 29 April 2022

The recent press conference held by two regime ministers with foreign media agencies has been seen as signaling Myanmar’s return to China’s embrace and rejection of western countries.

It follows former dictator Than Shwe’s approach when facing western sanctions which left the country in deep poverty. The current junta appears to be following a similar path.

The junta’s investment and foreign economic relations minister, U Aung Naing Oo, told Chinese reporters that western countries are spreading negativity about Chinese investment in Myanmar.

Information minister U Maung Maung Ohn and U Aung Naing Oo held a virtual press conference with the Associated Press, Reuters, South China Morning Post, Strait Times, China Central Television (CCTV), People’s Daily and Xinhua last week.

Chinese reporters asked in a contemptuous tone if the regime can guarantee security for Chinese investments and the two ministers tried to be reassuring.

Western firms Chevron, Total and Woodside account for 10 percent of investment in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector and other shareholders will take their place when they leave Myanmar, said U Aung Naing Oo.

China accounts for about 27 percent of foreign oil and gas investment, U Aung Naing Oo told Xinhua.

Western countries imposed sanctions on Myanmar between 2000 and 2011 but the country did not care, said U Aung Naing Oo.

China is the most important foreign investor and the junta hopes it will work with the regime for Myanmar’s economic recovery, said U Aung Naing Oo.

Blame the west

U Aung Naing Oo told the People’s Daily from China that western non-governmental organizations have been objecting to Chinese-backed hydropower projects.

The west wants to hamper growing Chinese investment, he said, while promising to help the projects run smoothly.

U Maung Maung Ohn invited Chinese investment in hydropower projects, guaranteeing that there will be no opposition under the regime. People’s Daily asked about arson attacks on Chinese factories in Hlaing Tharyar Township, Yangon, after last year’s coup.

The township is now under direct military rule and incidents would not happen again, said U Aung Naing Oo. The chairman of the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council, had made efforts to protect Chinese projects under the Myanmar Investment Law, he added.

U Aung Naing Oo claimed western countries are spreading hostility about China in Myanmar, without providing evidence.

A Xinhua reporter asked how western countries are responsible for Myanmar’s instability and the damage it has caused to Myanmar and its neighbors.

Western countries interfere in Myanmar because they fear China’s growing power and influence, said U Aung Naing Oo, a former military officer.

The west is trying to install a puppet government in Myanmar to boost its regional influence, he added.

The CCTV reporter asked if the general election promised for next year would be possible amid resistance violence. U Maung Maung Ohn’s claimed the regime is in full control of security and the civilian National Unity Government is only capable of attacking minor police stations.

China understands Myanmar and always helps when it faces difficulties, said U Maung Maung Ohn, who called for Chinese assistance ahead of next year’s election.

Regime copes fine with sanctions  

In response to the Xinhua reporter’s question about the economic impact of western sanctions, U Aung Naing Oo said sanctions do not affect the regime, only businesses.

Factories have shut because of sanctions, US dollars are hard to obtain and jobs have been lost, he said.

“Sanctions cause no harm to the government. The government has made preparations. Their sanctions have contributed to economic cooperation with neighboring countries,” he said.

An observer said governments should protect citizens and the minister’s remark was irresponsible.

“As a minister, he should not have said that sanctions do not harm the regime and only harm the people. But his remark is not surprising considering as it is an illegal government,” he said.

Does China publicly support the regime?

Last month, the junta’s foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin met China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, who has now met the regime twice since the coup.

Wang Yi, according to the People’s Daily reporter, told a press conference that it is possible to send electricity to Myanmar if there is a power line.

A cross-border power line project is a part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor Cooperation, said U Aung Naing Oo.

It was agreed to open a Myanmar consulate in the giant Chinese city of Chongqing during U Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit.

China provides training and university scholarships for civil servants from Myanmar in Chongqing. The city has many migrant workers and direct flights from Yangon began in 2019.

Consular staff were appointed months before U Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit to China so the decision was clearly made in advance.

U Aung Naing Oo in Naypyitaw said citizens can find construction work when economic corridor projects resume soon.

An observer, who asked not to be named, said Chines cooperation with the regime is to be expected as Beijing only cares about its own interests. However, Chinese state-owned enterprises are only likely to start or resume projects agreed under previous governments and new Chinese investment is unlikely, he said.

“The junta still can’t control the country properly and its troops are under threat everywhere. Under these circumstances, new big projects by the state-owned enterprises are unlikely as it is very risky,” the observer said.