The Myanmar military junta’s desperation to maintain its ties with China exacerbates its human rights violations across the country, as the junta violently clears the way for China’s development projects. Shunned by the international community, the junta – reeling from its failed coup in February 2021 – sees China as a lifeline to survive, while China shamelessly prioritizes its interests over the lives of Myanmar civilians. The international community must not let China’s complicity in the junta’s atrocities deter decisive and tangible action to end the junta’s war of terror against civilians in Myanmar.
The junta’s marked increase in violence against civilians over recent months appears connected to its eagerness to facilitate China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. As examined in Bloodstained Gateways, a new report from Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), most of the junta’s human rights violations in northern Myanmar since its failed coup “are located alongside planned BRI projects and transport corridors.” KWAT further reported that junta pressure to close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps “appears closely linked to their desire to fast-track Chinese investment, as many of the camps lie near planned BRI projects.” The Mung Lai Hkyet attack on 9 October 2023 – designated a war crime by Human Rights Watch – as well as junta shelling along a trade route in northern Shan State, also falls into this pattern of violence carving a bloody path for China’s BRI.
In addition to escalating junta brutality – including airstrikes, arbitrary shootings, and sexual and gender-based violence – KWAT found that the junta has displaced almost 14,000 villagers in Kachin and northern Shan States between May 2022 and July 2023. Similarly, in August 2023, the junta forcibly evicted residents of Wet Hmay Village in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region, located near the Letpadaung copper mining project. The junta also raided villages to the east of the mining project, displacing over 1,000 residents and burning down homes. For over a decade, the Myanmar military has violently attacked civilians to protect this mining project – jointly run by junta-controlled conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings, Ltd. and two subsidiaries of Chinese state-owned company Wanbao.
China, meanwhile, appears unfazed by the junta’s merciless violence against civilians, concerned only with continuing BRI projects however possible. BRI is China’s expansive government strategy encompassing – though not limited to – China’s infrastructure development projects across the world. As part of BRI in Myanmar, China is implementing the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which aims to connect China with the Bay of Bengal, especially Myanmar’s oil and gas resources there.
Following the failed coup, China has relentlessly continued CMEC projects, such as the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway, lending the junta legitimacy as they work hand-in-hand. Mere weeks following the devastating Pa Zi Gyi massacre of April 2023 – in which the junta killed 155 people – Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing discussed accelerating key CMEC projects. And only weeks after Cyclone Mocha, China increasingly pressured the junta to continue work on a deep seaport in Rakhine State, poised to ruin locals’ livelihoods. No doubt remains that China’s utmost priority is extracting whatever benefits it can from Myanmar’s junta-made crisis at the expense of civilian lives and livelihoods. Likewise, the junta stays cozied up to China, not only to claim legitimacy but also to continue to enjoy impunity for its international crimes in its war of terror against the people of Myanmar.
While salivating over Beijing’s recognition, the junta uses its military resources to violently protect China’s investments at all costs – a capacity the junta increasingly cannot guarantee. Despite the illegal junta’s all-out efforts to gain China’s support, China stops short of allowing the junta chief to visit Beijing. Nevertheless, this month China’s third BRI Forum welcomed two other junta leaders – Mya Tun Oo, the junta’s Deputy Prime Minister, and Ko Ko Hlaing, the junta’s Minister of Union Government Office (2) – clearly displaying China’s profit-driven friendship with the murderous junta.
Going forward, the international community must not allow China to block concrete action to protect civilians and end junta violence in Myanmar. With China’s recent election to the UN Human Rights Council and its permanent membership on the UN Security Council (UNSC) alongside Russia, the international community must act decisively and fearlessly. Vetoes from China and Russia must not deter UNSC members – particularly the United Kingdom, the UNSC’s penholder on Myanmar – from tabling a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that definitively pursues accountability for the military’s atrocities, and imposes a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions. With any UNSC vetoes clearly recorded, the resolution should be tabled at the UN General Assembly, echoing last year’s decisive resolution on Ukraine.
Ultimately, China’s support of the junta is a bet on the wrong horse, as the junta suffers increasing losses on the ground while China deepens its complicity in the junta’s crimes and fosters havens for cybercrime. With the Spring Revolution only gaining strength, China has positioned itself to be detested by the Myanmar people, as China’s money flows directly into the illegal junta’s blood-soaked hands. In the long run, the international community must deny China any ability to deter action to protect and support the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of accountability, justice, and sustainable peace.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By 440 Civil Society Organizations
By 440 Civil Society Organizations
By Association of Southeast Asian Nations
By Burma Campaign UK
By Human Rights Watch
By Justice For Myanmar
By NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security
By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”