Multiple garment factories in the Hlaingthaya suburb of Yangon were set ablaze on Sunday, Mar. 14, amidst ongoing protests against the recent military coup in Myanmar.
Factories owned by both Chinese and Taiwanese investors
Reuters cited protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung as saying on a Facebook post that the factories in question were owned by Chinese investors.
Local media The Irrawaddy, however, reported that the two factories were owned by Chinese and Taiwanese investors respectively.
The same day also saw at least 22 anti-coup protesters killed within the same district.
Along with the deaths of at least 16 protesters and a policeman in other places, the day was marked as having the highest death toll since the Feb. 1 coup against the country's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Comments by Myanmar netizens allege plot by military over burning of factories
Alluding to anti-Chinese sentiments among protesters as they perceive Beijing as one of the military junta's backers, Ei Thinzar Maung said on her social media post:
“If you want to do business in Myanmar stably, then respect Myanmar people. Fighting Hlaingthaya, we are proud of you!!”
But several Myanmar citizens have taken to social media to allege an alternative theory.
They also suggested that the military did so as they were cooking up an excuse to justify harsher crackdowns on the protesters.
Their concerns might not be completely unjustified, judging from a report by belligerent Chinese state-controlled media Global Times, which said China had urged the Myanmar government to "punish the perpetrators".
Several netizens also took the chance to criticise the Chinese government for its apparent lack of concern for the Myanmar people, as they issued a statement when the factories burned down, but not when civilians were getting killed.
One netizen's comment even spoke of a possible threat directed at Singapore.
However, he was called out by other netizens, with some claiming that he is a troll on the side of the country's military.
What did China say?
Chinese state media CGTN had claimed that over 10 factories had been set on fire by unidentified arsonists carrying "iron rods, axes and gasoline", adding that an unspecified number of these factories were "Chinese-funded enterprises."
In response to the incident, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said that many Chinese staff were injured and called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens.
The embassy also called for people in Myanmar to express their demands within the limits of the law, without violence.
A spokesperson for the embassy was quoted by The Irrawaddy as stating:
"China requires Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all violent acts, investigate and deal with relevant perpetrators in accordance with the law, and ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese enterprises and personnel in Myanmar.
We call on the people of Myanmar to express their demands legally and not to be incited or used to undermine the friendly cooperation between China and Myanmar."
As a precaution, the Taiwanese representative office in Myanmar had even advised Taiwanese firms to fly the Taiwanese flag to avoid getting caught up in potential violence against Chinese-owned companies, Reuters reported.
Investors rethinking their decision
Since the coup, Myanmar has been roiled by mass protests and continued crackdowns on demonstrators.
Along with calls for boycott of certain products perceived to be linked to the junta's alleged supporters, foreign investors and businesses have had to rethink their plans in the country,
Besides the volatility involved in regular confrontations between the military government and protesters, some businesses are also inclined to consider the image they are projecting to their clients, especially if they might be perceived as supporting or condoning the military's values.
Martial law imposed in factory suburb
According to Reuters, martial law has since been imposed in the Hlaingthaya suburb and another district of Yangon, in response to the torchings.
Myanmar military-run media Myawadday television further alleged that 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching the burning factories.
The Irrawaddy highlighted that Sunday's killings brings the death toll to 134 since the military first launched the coup last month.
Top image collage via CNA Facebook and CGTN