Taiwan separatist DPP authority’s black hand behind anti-mainland rumors amid Myanmar upheaval
Playing Dirty
Published: Apr 03, 2021 01:29 PM Updated: Apr 03, 2021 10:11 PM
Smoke rises after protesters burn tyres in Thakeyta Township, Yangon, Myanmar on March 27. Photo: VCG

Smoke rises after protesters burn tyres in Thakeyta Township, Yangon, Myanmar on March 27. Photo: VCG

Since unrest in Myanmar broke out on February 1, a loose online coalition called the Milk Tea Alliance, comprising of anti-China and separatist forces, has consistently been churning out rumors about and stirring up trouble against the Chinese mainland. The Global Times discovered the forces of Taiwan island's separatist authority and its supporters loom large behind the violence and anti-China propaganda in Myanmar. 

To expand so-called "diplomatic space," Taiwan regional leader Tsai Ing-wen sees Myanmar as a key target for her "new southbound policy." The head representative of Taiwan island in Myanmar - the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office - often appears on its website under the title of "ambassador."

Taiwan media reported that more than 300 Taiwan businesses have entered Myanmar in recent years, with a total investment of more than $1 billion. 

However, behind normal economic and trade exchanges, the Taiwan authorities have been trying to expand their influence in Myanmar in an attempt to seize the opportunity amid the chaos in Myanmar to undermine the interests of the Chinese mainland in surrounding areas and overseas.

Taiwan online trolls

Both the Taiwan island separatist authority and its supporters are sparing no effort to sabotage China-Myanmar relations. 

For example, some people have spread the claim that "counterfeit Myanmar banknotes made in the Chinese mainland have entered the local market," but from the photos taken by the rumormongers, it can be seen that the bundling of the fake banknotes has the words "E.SUN Bank" (a Taiwan-funded bank) printed on it, which reveals their sinister plot. 

After the political turmoil broke out in Myanmar, some social media accounts based in Hong Kong and Taiwan posted messages calling for Myanmar people to join the "Milk Tea Alliance," and spread hate speeches against the Chinese mainland. There are even radical Myanmar dissidents openly calling for collusion with the alliance along with the burning of Chinese enterprises to "warn" the Chinese mainland.

Most of the social media accounts based in Taiwan island that have posted about Myanmar are engaged in Chinese mainland-bashing, a survey found.

According to a computer expert, an analysis of more than 1,000 Facebook and Twitter accounts on topics related to Myanmar showed that 381 accounts are from Myanmar, of which 39 were attacking the Chinese mainland. A total of 594 accounts use traditional Chinese characters - commonly used on the island of Taiwan - of which 426 were attacking the Chinese mainland. Fewer than 100 accounts use English and only eight of them attack the Chinese mainland. 

Analysts said that the separatist forces in Taiwan and Hong Kong are obviously taking advantage of the turmoil in Myanmar to shift people's anger toward the Chinese mainland.

Since the internal political upheaval in Myanmar, the Taiwan authorities have quickly conducted the evacuation of some overseas residents.

Courting Myanmar for influence

The spokesman of the Taiwan People's Party recently said that the situation in Myanmar can reveal the real "diplomatic situation" of Taiwan and that the DPP does not know much about its neighbors in Southeast Asia and has nothing it can do to help with the situation.

For most people in Taiwan, Myanmar remains unfamiliar. With the promotion of democratic reform in Myanmar in 2010, the Taiwan authority started to include Myanmar in its "Work Plans on Enhancing Economic Ties and Trade in Southeast Asia" and increased their investment there.

In the first few years of the "resumption of relations," Taiwan's affairs with Myanmar were mainly managed by the "Taipei Economic and Cultural Office" in Thailand. In terms of economy and trade, Taiwan's External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) opened a trade office in Yangon in 2013. In 2016, the "Bureau of Foreign Trade" of Taiwan also set up an economic group of its representative office in Myanmar in Yangon.

The office set up by Taiwan's International Cooperation and Development Fund in 2014 in Yangon was renamed in 2016 as Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Myanmar. At that time, the Democratic Progressive Party authority believed that the newly empowered leader Tsai Ing-wen and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, both women, would have more opportunity to deepen the development of Taiwan-Myanmar relations. 

Since then, Tsai listed Myanmar as a key target for the "new southbound policy," hoping to make use of Taiwan's capital, technology, and other resources to develop relations with Myanmar.

The flight of Keith Krach, former US under secretary of state, lands at Taipei Songshan Airport on September 17, 2020. Expert says Taiwan's DPP authority was only a

The flight of Keith Krach, former US under secretary of state, lands at Taipei Songshan Airport on September 17, 2020. Expert says Taiwan's DPP authority was only a "little accomplice" to the US in playing tactical games in Myanmar. Photo: VCG

Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Myanmar is housed in a small, inconspicuous building. As can be seen from its website, its personnel often meet with Myanmar officials, donate money, and try to lure local youth to study in Taiwan to cultivate pro-Taiwan forces.

Tsai has courted Myanmar in the education sector for a long time. In July 2016, in order to attract high school students from Myanmar to study in Taiwan colleges and universities, the education department of Taiwan held the "Taiwan Higher Education Exhibition" for the first time in Yangon and Mandalay, gathering 36 top universities from the island for endorsement. Many universities in Taiwan were able to officially enroll Myanmar's students after 2016. 

Statistics show that 738 Myanmar students were enrolled in Taiwan's colleges and universities in the 2017 academic year, and in June 2018, during an education fair in Myanmar, the Taiwan authority announced the provision of several scholarships for Myanmar university lecturers to pursue doctoral and master's degrees in Taiwan. 

In 2017, Taiwan's "National Cheng Kung University" opened an introductory Myanmar language course. In 2018, in order to attract tourists, Taiwan's tourism department organized the first tourism promotion activities in Myanmar. Statistics show that 25,000 people from Taiwan visited Myanmar in 2016. Since the establishment of a representative office in Myanmar in March 2016, the number of Myanmar visitors to Taiwan has increased, and more than 10,000 "visas" were issued by 2017.

In 2019, the Taiwan Review, an English-language magazine funded by the authority, published a special issue featuring Myanmar, detailing cases of Taiwan companies and NGOs developing there in an effort to lure Taiwan businesses to the country. In April 2020, the DPP authority announced a donation of 1.6 million face masks to eight countries, including Myanmar, under its "new southbound policy."

US' little accomplice

A scholar of Taiwan affairs told the Global Times that Taiwan's DPP authority serves only as an "accomplice" to the US in playing tactical games in Myanmar, and itself does not have much power to stir up trouble inside the country. The DPP hopes to see instability between the mainland and its neighbors, as it can deflect the focus from the s of Taiwan's separatists.

The scholar said the Taiwan authorities have been playing tricks "in Hong Kong in 2019, in Thailand in 2020, and in Myanmar in 2021" as part of their strategy of making or contributing to trouble for Beijing in international affairs.

Some analysts believed that once the situation in Myanmar becomes stable, the Taiwan authority would promote the "new southbound policy" targeting Myanmar so as to decrease some Taiwan businesses' dependence on the Chinese mainland, and expand "diplomatic space."

However, Taiwan investments are meeting more challenges in Myanmar, including competition from European, American, and Japanese investments. Moreover, the Chinese mainland and Myanmar have maintained a close relationship. In January 2020, China and Myanmar signed a joint communiqué, in which Myanmar reaffirmed the one-China principle.

According to a report by Taiwan-based China Times in February 2018, Myanmar did not recognize documents from the Taiwan authority, and Taiwan firms could not set up any organization in the name of "Taiwan." In February, a survey conducted by Taiwan's economic departments and associations showed that only 6 percent of Taiwan-based firms would have Myanmar as its first choice to invest in among Southeast Asian countries. The Taiwan authority is not sure about how many benefits it can garner in Myanmar.

Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times that the relationship between the Taiwan authority and Myanmar is more complex than many people thought. Taiwan island, after its development, used to provide some help to build Chinese schools and Chinese communities at the "Golden Triangle." Under Lee Teng-hui and Tsai, Taiwan enterprises have been investing in Myanmar. "The Taiwan authority does have some influence in Myanmar."

Zhuang called for vigilance against the Taiwan authority's tricks targeting the Chinese mainland, such as inciting people to join the "Milk Tea Alliance" or spreading rumors about the Chinese mainland among Myanmar people to damage China-Myanmar relations.