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WSJ Tunes into Asian Game of Thrones

China has alienated public opinion across the region in recent years—partly because of government decisions but also as a result of its growing economic presence and power. You know it’s gotten serious when even the Singaporeans hate you. As Patrick Barta reports in the WSJ:

In tightly controlled Singapore . . . a spate of anti-Chinese messages spread across websites when Chinese migrants working as bus drivers went on strike and snarled transportation.

Barta does an excellent job explaining several similar kinds of episodes in various countries in the context of China’s presence in Asia. Anti-China protests are on the rise in Vietnam. Mongolia is reducing China’s access to its market. Public trust in China is at an all time low in both Japan and the Philippines.

Barta’s analysis of the Myanmar-China split is particularly good. He says that Beijing’s strategy, building diplomatic and economic bridges with the ruling elite but neglecting broader public opinion, is coming back to haunt it:

In return for its support, China obtained access to Myanmar’s mineral, timber and hydropower resources, plus another export outlet. Chinese companies began building a Myanmar pipeline important to China’s energy security. A subsidiary of Chinese arms maker China North Industries Corp. acquired a stake in a large Myanmar mine. China Power Investment Corp. and other companies got rights to develop hydroelectric dams.

Over the past year and a half, the marriage of convenience has started to unravel. Myanmar residents, freer to speak than before, are expressing widespread anger over what some see as Chinese exploitation of their country’s workers and resources. Many blame China for having helped keep the generals in power all those years. [ . . . ]

“China intentionally ignored public opposition to Chinese projects and the anti-China sentiment on the ground,” convinced that Myanmar couldn’t afford to alienate Beijing, wrote Yun Sun, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a recent paper on Myanmar.

Now, she wrote, Chinese leaders face the possibility of sharply increased competition from Western companies in Myanmar and “potentially unfriendly rules” as the Myanmar government overhauls its economic system with Western input.

Via Meadia has long been watching what we call Asia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ — a complex and competitive response to China’s rise that is changing the balance of power in the fastest growing and most heavily populated part of the world. The MSM, hobbled by a Eurocentric background and by staff cutbacks, has been slow to capture the full dimension of the forces at work. We’re pleased to see the WSJ move the ball forward on covering the Game of Thrones; at the NYT writers like Jane Perlez are also getting it right. This is a huge, complicated and fascinating story and it’s one that Americans need to track much more closely than they have in the past.

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