Chinese influx transforming Myanmar's quintessential city
DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press•May 1, 2018
MANDALAY, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's last royal capital harbored the most learned Buddhist monks and exquisite artists, citizens speaking the most refined Burmese and cooks who prepared the best curries in the land. Mandalay was rhapsodized as the nation's cultural core.
Today, along the grand moat of the former royal palace, Chinese music rings out as people perform tai chi exercises, a sign of an uneasy transformation taking place in Myanmar's second-largest city. This once quintessential Burmese metropolis, residents say, is losing its traditions as a massive influx of Chinese migrants reshapes it in their own likeness.
"I feel that I am no longer a resident of Mandalay," says Nyi Nyi Zaw, a 30-year-old journalist, adding that problems between Burmese and Chinese caused by the changing dynamics have become a staple of his reporting. "They (Chinese people) look like the residents. They have money, so they have the power."
This makeover of Mandalay — located about 300 kilometers (185 miles) from China's Yunnan province and at the crossroads of trade, transport and smuggling routes — reflects a Chinese footprint across Southeast Asia that has grown alongside Beijing's economic and military clout. And it is one that is expected to widen as China pushes forward with its One Belt, One Road initiative to link Eurasian nations via land and sea routes.
Propelled by Beijing's policy of encouraging Chinese enterprises to expand abroad as well as official Chinese government investment in its neighbors' infrastructure, the influx has sparked a measure of prosperity in some impoverished Southeast Asian regions. But along with it has come local resentment, sometimes anger, at perceived Chinese aggressiveness, cultural insensitivity and environmental damage.
Chinese have been drawn to Southeast Asia for centuries, with waves of migrants fleeing war, revolution and starvation in the first half of the 20th century. While most of them came with little more than the shirts on their backs, many of the latest migrants are arriving with cash and savvy.