Myanmar-China Watch

Beijing Uses University Scholarships to Tighten Ties With Myanmar Junta

By The Irrawaddy 24 March 2023

China has awarded PaukPhaw scholarships to 111 university students of the Naypyitaw State Academy founded by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, the latest in Beijing’s steps to rekindle ties with Myanmar military generals after it distanced itself from the regime following the 2021 coup.

Students from 12 different fields of study received 500,000 kyats (around US$ 180) each for the 2022-23 academic year in a ceremony held at the academy on Friday.

According to junta media, PaukPhaw (“fraternal”) scholarships will be awarded to a total of 800 university students from East Yangon University, Yangon Education University, Yangon University of Foreign Languages, Dagon University, and Naypyitaw State Academy, with funding from Alibaba Philanthropy for the current academic year.

The PaukPhaw scholarship project was launched by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation in Myanmar Office (CFPA) in 2015. Scholarships have been presented to a total of 1,348 students from 14 universities to date, according to junta media.

The four-month-old Naypyitaw State Academy founded by Min Aung Hlaing is the latest recipient of the China-backed scholarship.

Touted by the junta as a potential academic hub of Myanmar, the Naypyitaw State Academy opened in November last year in the administrative capital. Min Aung Hlaing aims to turn the academy into an international university and is cooperating with the junta’s key arms supplier, Russia, to enhance its quality.

Relations between Beijing and the junta became strained following the visit of China’s special envoy to Myanmar Sun Guoxiang to Naypyitaw in November 2021. However, since Sun was succeeded by Deng Xijun in December, relations have improved between the two neighbors.

China has resumed its investment projects in Myanmar and is also pouring in new investments.

Along with economic and education ties, cultural relations are also being strengthened. China recently opened a Wushu class in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon “to deepen cultural and people-to-people exchanges between Myanmar and China.”