China is a major economically backer of Myanmar diplomatically, economically and militarily but the history of cooperation in the two countries is nuanced. Bilateral ties were damaged in 2011 by the government’s decision to suspend China’s Myitsone dam project in Kachin state for environmental reasons. After this the Myitsone dam decision, Beijing stepped up its media outreach. The director general of China Radio International, Wang Gengnian, visited in 2012 to sign an agreement to broadcast Chinese TV shows, signalling almost a decade of media cooperation that was to come.
In Myanmar, China’s outreach strategy is clear; it signs bilateral agreements at central, regional and local level to create a mesh of bilateral ties at every level. Chinese outreach in Myanmar is widespread and deep, ranging across print, radio and television, including attempts to gain shares in Myanmar media businesses then use corporate power to disseminate Chinese propaganda messages.
In a IFJ survey conducted in 2020, the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA) said that Chinese ties to the national media and media unions were very strong and considered this cooperation to be beneficial. The MJA holds MOUs with both the Yunnan Journalist Association and All-China Journalists Association, the journalists union that all Chinese journalists are required to join.
A dark new era
The eruption of violence in Myanmar poses a stark problem for China, whose strategy relied on working with existing media institutions that are now under threat. At the same time, China is supplying the Myanmar military with the weapons it needs to continue its brutal campaign, meaning that China’s influence over the country and its new media order could be strengthened in the aftermath of the current conflict.