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China Denies Helping Myanmar Military Regime Build Internet Firewall

By The Irrawaddy 11 February 2021

A group of protesters stand in front of the Chinese Embassy calling on China to reject the military coup in Myanmar.

YANGON—China on Wednesday rejected reports that it is helping Myanmar’s military build a firewall to block social media, popular search engines including Google and virtual private networks (VPNs).

This week, an anti-coup demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon has grown daily, with protesters’ main demand being that China stop supporting the military regime. China has long been known for its cozy relationship with the military in Myanmar. Moreover, China recently refused to condemn the military takeover at the United Nations Security Council.

Anti-coup protesters are seen in front of Kandawgyi Park in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, on Wednesday. / The Irrawaddy

China’s denial of involvement in building a firewall came after Myanmar social media users published a list of five cargo flights from China’s Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, that arrived at Yangon International Airport on Tuesday, a little over a week after the coup. The list has gone viral, with social media users speculating that China dispatched IT technicians to help the Myanmar military build a firewall.

The military regime is reportedly asking IT communities to review a new draft cyber law that would restrict digital rights, freedom of speech and access to information online in Myanmar. Under the law, all individual electronic data would be under surveillance by the regime.

 Protesters stand in front of Kandawgyi Park in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, on Thursday. / The Irrawaddy 

Internet service providers would be instructed to keep each customer’s data including internet protocol address, phone number, national identification number, address, and activity history for three years, according to the bill. Moreover, authorities would also be able to access information on personal individual social media accounts at any time, and intercept chat messages sent via social media platforms if they detect suspicious activity, according to the IT experts.

An IT company owner who asked not to be named told The Irrawaddy that only China has the technology needed to support such a firewall for the military regime, adding that IT companies will have to follow the new cyber law if it is enacted.

Protesters against the military coup arrive in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, on Wednesday. / The Irrawaddy

“Under the new law, it would become mandatory for IT companies to provide their users’ data to the authorities. No one would be safe; we will all be under surveillance [by the authorities]. That is my biggest concern,” he said.

China’s “Great Firewall of China” is the largest and most sophisticated online censorship operation in the world. It blocks selected foreign websites and limits access to foreign information sources domestically. Foreign IT companies are required to follow domestic regulations if they want to operate in China.

On Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy shared a statement from the China Enterprise Chamber of Commerce saying the rumors were false. It added that the flights between China and Myanmar were regular cargo flights and carried only imported goods such as seafood.

About a thousand protesters gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, on Thursday. / The Irrawaddy

The Chinese Embassy asked people in Myanmar not to spread rumors on social media.

However, many people in Myanmar do believe China’s denial. Nearly a thousand protesters gathered on Thursday in front of the Chinese Embassy demanding that Beijing condemn the military and stop helping the regime. The protesters held placards reading “The world is with us, but China is with the military regime”, “We want our leader”, “Respect Myanmar people’s votes” and “Do not ignore injustice.”

Skeptical of the Chinese response to the reports of suspicious flights, a protester outside the embassy on Thursday held a placard reading, “Share the Seafood with us RIGHT NOW!”

Anti-coup protesters march to the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, on Thursday. / The Irrawaddy

Another protester in front of the embassy said, “China has been totally silent about the coup in Myanmar. They still haven’t condemned the unlawful act by the military, although other international players have.”

He added, “We want to let them know that we totally reject the coup, and that China should stand with us, not the military.”

Last week the military regime banned Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—the most popular social media sites among Myanmar people—after a civil disobedience movement against the military coup emerged on the platforms.


SOURCE: The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Thu, February 11, 2021

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