Reflection on Sino-Burmese Dialogue | How Exactly Myanmar NGOs understand the Chinese Enterprises

Author: Project Manager Summer from China House

Translated by Yunqiao Xu, Yifei Zhu

In the past, when Chinese companies went abroad, they thought building a good relationship only with local government is sufficient. However, the lack of understanding and attention to local NGOs falls short of addressing a verity of issues, causing a sheer volume of Chinese enterprise to suffer from inadequate communications. Myanmar is a typical country where Chinese companies and NGOs do not understand each other, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts.

In order to build a bridge between Chinese companies and local NGOs, China House held an online seminar in July this year and invited one of Myanmar’s most influential NGOs—Ms. Vicky, the founder of the Myanmar Responsible Business Center, and a scholar on China-Myanmar relations. Liu Yun, the representative of Myanmar NGOs and Chinese companies attended the meeting.

Seminar background

In Myanmar, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) directly influence the development and execution of overseas investment projects. Unlike government organizations, NGOs often voice up for public opinions. For overseas investment projects, obtaining local government’s approval may be just the first step. What comes after, including developing in-depth cooperation with local NGOs and gaining recognition, is considered as the main bugaboo to many overseas investments.

As one of the key countries of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Myanmar has attracted many Chinese investment projects, including large-scale projects in the construction, energy, and agriculture industries. However, in recent years, Chinese investment projects in Myanmar have been frequently opposed by local NGOs, which resulted in some suspension of projects through halfway working. 

For Chinese enterprises in Myanmar, NGOs are “terrible” and “unreasonable”. Many of their protests are highly prejudiced and targeted; for NGOs in Myanmar, Chinese companies are “mysterious” and “malicious”. Due to language, policy and many other reasons, NGOs did not come to understand the purpose of investments that Chinese enterprises have been working on, which resulted in resistance. In order to ease the tension between local NGOs and Chinese enterprises, one suggests that all the stakeholders need to be actively committed into the dialogue between Chinese investments in Myanmar and local NGOs in order to effectively avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

Highlights of the seminar

In this seminar, all parties raised many sharp questions: “In what ways could Chinese enterprises guarantee the eco-friendly developments in the local areas?” “Do local NGOs in Myanmar turned against the Chinese companies?” “In the process of promoting cooperation between China and Myanmar, what efforts should Myanmar NGOs make?”

Among the guests, Ms. Vicky has a pivotal position in Myanmar’s NGOs. She was the British ambassador to Myanmar. Ms. Vicky stepped down at the end of her term as a British ambassador to Myanmar, and founded the Myanmar Responsible Business Center. Ms. Vicky, who has lived in Myanmar for many years, comprehends the history and current societal situation of Myanmar, and her personal diplomatic ability is extremely strong. In her own words, “I am operating an NGO as a diplomat.”

Ms. Vicky

To understand NGOs in Myanmar, Ms. Vicky’s attitude and opinions are very important. In this seminar, she brought up some specific suggestions based on the needs.

The PPT made by Ms. Vicky indicates the expectation of Myanmar NGOs for Chinese investments

Liu Yun, another guest of this seminar, has also studied China-Myanmar relations for many years. As a special writer of Tea Circle in Myanmar, Liu Yun has served as a special consultant for Chinese investment in Myanmar many times, providing investment advice and consulting services for Chinese companies. He provided analysis on the investment cases he saw over the past years and brought up many challenges that Chinese companies will encounter and how to deal with them.

Myanmar Tea Circle website:

In addition, Mo Meng, a Myanmarese scholar specializing in international relations, shared his own research findings. He analyzed the possible future trend of Sino-Myanmar relations and possible conflicts and opportunities under current Sino-US relations.

Small activity, Big step 

The open and transparent dialogue in the seminar is an important attempt for Chinese and Myanmarese. After the seminar, Ms. Vicky also said: “There are a few opportunities to hear so many constructive and enlightening questions and suggestions.”

Chinese companies still face many challenges in the process of investing projects overseas, including gaining local trusts and avoiding unnecessary stigma. In this process, China House, as a non-governmental organization, endeavors to promote dialogue and exchanges among multiple stakeholders at a fair position.

If you are also interested in topics such as Chinese investment in Myanmar, Myanmar social organization, etc., you can click to read the original text to get the full video and PPT of this seminar.

You can also pay more attention to China House’s international voice and dialogue project and look at China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and overseas investment from the perspective of local society.

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