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Politics & Law

Why Myanmar prefers China to the West


The assembly line of Gold AYA Motor International Co Ltd in Mandalay (Photo: Kyaw Ko Ko/Myanmar Times)

In early August 2019, Myanmar proudly celebrated their first domestically produced car. The manufacturer, which is a China-Myanmar joint venture, can produce 5,000 local brand vehicles a year.

On Sep 18, 2012, when Hillary Clinton, the then US Secretary of State, hugged with Aung San Suu Kyi (1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) passionately and joyfully, she probably had hoped for an intimate US-Myanmar relationship by the time Aung San could become in power.

Yes, she did it. Aung San firstly served as a member of the parliament (2012-6), and finally became the de facto leader of Myanmar as the First State Counsellor on April 6, 2016.

Clinton met Aung San again in Apr 2015 when the latter went to Washington to visit the then President Obama. How cheerful they were (see the photo here).

In less than two years, however, the relation between Washington and Naypyidaw (capital city of Myanmar, how much do you know about it?) went sour.

The Rohingya crisis is definitely a reason for this deterioration. Nevertheless, bearing in mind that the West has a splendid selective capacity of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ (e.g. the lack of press freedom in Singapore and the gender inequality in Saudi Arabia), what really angers the West is Aung San’s turn to China.

Why? It is partly because the West is unwilling and unable to provide the necessary favors to support Myanmar’s economic growth, and partly because the West knows too little about Myanmar’s culture.

While Myanmar welcomes the Chinese tourists (320,882 in Jan-Jun 2019) and Chinese investments plus the attached technologies, the Buddhist culture of Myanmar plays an important role in guiding its foreign policy.

Briefly speaking, the Bamar (the major ethnic group of Myanmar, 68% of total population) people are mostly faithful Buddhists. Although, like all other human beings, they want better quality of living, they tend to disgust such Western life style as extravagance and punk rock music.

The Western peoples know too little about Myanmar. When recalling the 1956 Burma-related novel ‘The Ugly American’ in his 26 July 2019 article, Professor David I. Steinberg of Georgetown University said this:

“… Throughout the volume, the Americans illustrate a remarkable sense of misunderstanding (and misreporting) on local situations and local cultures, when they have infrequent contact with them…

“… ‘The Ugly American’ as a novel deserves to be forgotten, but the ugly American as an individual prototype of a culturally sensitive person is an ideal. And the need for cultural sensitivity remains seminal … the verities remain: the dignity with which peoples must be treated.”

If the Bamar people, who fight three bloody Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824-85) against the British colonist, are not treated with dignity, they never see you as a friend.

China, instead, had centuries-long peaceful cultural exchange with Myanmar, and they both treated and still treat each other with respect and dignity. It is as simple as that.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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