Myanmar Coup Response Highlights China’s Delicate Development Dance

China criticized for ‘non-interference’ in Myanmar . . .

Last week, the European Union charged at the UN Security Council that China was “thwarting” action on the crisis in Myanmar. For its part, Beijing maintains it is not interfering with the embattled country’s domestic affairs. Within Myanmar, outrage at China’s perceived preoccupation with the safety of Chinese investors and businesses in the country over concern about the humanitarian crisis has led to attacks on Chinese factories and strikes at mines crucial to Sino-Myanmar economic ties. Garment workers' unions, which now lead many of the anti-coup protests, have long been in a battle with Chinese and other foreign factory owners over wages and working conditions. And Chinese-led development projects in ethnic minority zones have received vocal opposition due to a lack of consultation, corruption, and large influxes of Chinese workers over local hiring.

Contesting China-led development projects . . .

Last Wednesday, the People’s Map of Global China was released. The map is a collaborative initiative between academics, NGOs, and local journalists and explores the local impacts of Chinese development worldwide. The project builds on initiatives launched in the last year, including Boston University’s database of Chinese-financed projects on vulnerable territories and a book of stories of residents living next to Chinese projects. The map project demonstrates how more than half of all overseas Chinese projects take place on politically or ecologically sensitive lands and how past projects checkered with a lack of transparency, miscommunication, and disregard for marginalized communities have shaped local understanding of China’s global ambitions.

Can China keep its grand promises of a new global development model?

Chinese policy papers on global development assistance and poverty alleviation published this year demonstrate the Middle Kingdom’s ambitions in proposing a model of win-win co-operation and non-interference distinct from Western approaches. And still, the papers incorporate widely accepted Western-led frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In the post-COVID era, China’s ability to fill funding gaps in existing global development financing and its willingness to take on riskier projects will further cement its role as a leading international development partner. China’s expanding international development role in the post-COVID world will indeed put its rhetoric to the test, and managing local relationships will be key to its success.