Fri, Feb 17, 2012 - Page 9 News List

As Myanmar opens, China alliance frays

China has long been the isolated Myanmar’s only foreign ally, but the country is chafing at Beijing’s influence, even though the easing of sanctions and opening to trade with the West will have little immediate effect

Reuters, MANDALAY, MYANMAR

Teacher Lin Lee, 30, born in northern Myanmar to Chinese parents, said it was hard just to get text books.

“The government is very strict about imports of Chinese text books,” she said from her classroom above an old shop-house. “We have to use photocopies. We ask people who are going to China to try and sneak back in a few copies of new books.”

Many feel deeply attached to Myanmar.

“I have made great efforts to get on with my neighbors,” said Tsai Tun-heng, the owner of a cluttered convenience store. “If anyone comes to burn down my store, I want them to know that they will also be destroying the Burmese-owned businesses all around me.”

In Mandalay, the ban on Chinese advertising also revived memories of anti-Chinese violence during the Ne Win-era.

It also recalls a similar ban on Chinese signage and publications in Indonesia that remained in effect for years after an abortive 1965 coup blamed on the China-backed Indonesian Communist Party.

Myanmar’s new government has sent officials to Indonesia to study its road to democracy.

“What can you do about it? It’s their country,” said cafe owner Liu Kui-you, a Myanmar citizen who can trace his ancestry to Yunnan Province.

Bein Nei Tha, a Burmese motorbike dealership worker, laughed when asked why his company also comes under the ban, despite having no Chinese ownership and having previously used just a few small Chinese characters next to an otherwise English-only sign.

“It seems a little silly,” he said. “I suppose the government wants to limit foreign influence, but then why leave the English?”

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