Buddhist monks from Masoeyein Taik Thit monastery and imams from mosques led protests Monday during the general strike in Mandalay, Burma’s second-largest city. Similar scenes were seen this Tuesday, also in Rangoon and in the capital, Naipyido. Hundreds of thousands of people, demanding the return of democracy that they have only enjoyed a decade, have once again taken to the streets for the seventeenth day in a row challenging the military who took power on February 1. Outside of the streets, the fight for democracy in Burma is also in cyberspace. Since the coup, the military government has provided a large firewall on the internet, blocking Western social networks and cutting off browsers. In response, a group of hackers, Myanmar Hackers, started a cyberwar by taking down the websites of some government institutions, such as the state broadcaster MRTV and the Food and Drug Administration.
These days, among the civil disobedience movement that defies the military authorities, rumors have begun to spread that Chinese technicians have arrived in Burma to help the army build that great digital censorship wall in the style of Beijing. Even the rumors go further, as can be seen in some Twitter threads, where the protesters ask that the images of the protests be analyzed in case someone detects Chinese soldiers infiltrated among the armed forces deployed in the streets. All of these assumptions stem from the nightly secret flights between China and Burma. On this information, which was mentioned last week by a couple of local Southeast Asian media in their chronicles on the protests, the Australian Institute of Strategic Policy (ASPI) today publishes more details in a report signed by researcher Susan Hutchinson.
Every night for more than a week, unrecorded flights between Yangon (Rangoon) and Kunming (capital of Yunnan province, south China) have been transporting unknown goods and personnel from China to Burma. The military regime that is now in charge of Burma is trying to hide the flights, “they assure from ASPI. The Chinese government and Myanmar Airways company have claimed that the planes were carrying seafood. However, the details of the flights in question make it highly unlikely. The situation in Burma suggests two possibilities for what the planes are carrying. One is that they are bringing in Chinese troops and cyber specialists to help the Tatmadaw – as the Burmese army is known – control access to information and the Internet. The other is that they are increasing the Tatmadaw weapons stores.
FIVE DAILY DIFFICULT FLIGHTS TO TRACK
When the Burmese military seized power, they banned international flights. But every night, there is an average of five flights between Yangon and Kunming. These planes go with the transponders turned off, so they do not appear on the radars. There is also no record of the departure times of these trips in the international flight databases. We know that transponders work because we can see that they have been turned off for specific flights and then turned on for others. Beyond that, Kunming Airport has not recorded them online as arrivals. The fact of not including the scheduled departure and arrival times, as opposed to the actual times, makes it particularly difficult to track them in open-source flight databases “, they analyze from the Australian institute.
ASPI says its information is based on data sent via satellite, as well as testimonies from Yangon airport workers and members of Burma’s civil disobedience movement, who have posted photos on Twitter from the airport with flight details. China is the fifth largest arms exporter in the world, exporting more than 16.2 billion units of ammunition in the last 15 years. Beijing has been favoring agreements with partners of the Belt and Road Initiative, and Burma has been one of the top three importers. over the past decade, Kunming, in particular, is home to a major artillery unit, as well as a variety of cyber and signals intelligence units, including one focused on operations in Southeast Asia, “the report states.
A month ago, General Min Aung Hlaing, leader of the military junta that rules Burma, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. A meeting baptized as “fraternal” by the press of the Asian giant. “China appreciates that the Burmese army takes national revitalization as its mission,” Wang said. After that meeting, some Burmese media highlighted that their military shared with the Chinese minister their complaints about the alleged fraud that occurred in the last elections on November 8, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that Aung San Suu Kyi leads, he had swept the elections with more than 80% of the seats in Parliament.
Also, the local press reported that before Wang returned to Beijing, General Min Aung Hlaing could have shared with him the future movements of the Army after contesting the results of the elections. China already supported in the past the military dictatorship that ruled Burma from 1962 to 2010, even protecting the Burmese military from international sanctions after the 2017 Rohingya genocide. Although also, during the last decade of the government led by Suu Kyi Both countries have maintained a close relationship, with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate visiting Beijing on several occasions and supporting President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road project.
Last week, the Chinese ambassador to Burma, Chen Hai, said in an interview that “the current development in Burma is not at all what China wants to see.” He also highlighted his good relationship with Suu Kyi and his support for the “mediation efforts” of the UN special envoy in the country. However, since the coupon February 1, while the international community, led by the United States, called for the restoration of democracy and the release of the detained political leaders and activists, from Beijing they defined at the beginning what happened in his neighboring country as a “major cabinet reshuffle,” then asking the other nations “not to interfere in Burma’s internal affairs.”