MANDALAY — Aung San Suu Kyi said over the weekend that the government must respect and protect its citizens from threats posed by illegal immigration, while also urging “harmonious” coexistence with people of all nationalities in Burma.
Suu Kyi was responding to questions on Sunday from prominent writers at a gathering in Mandalay Division’s Pyin Oo Lwin, a meeting organized following the opposition leader’s trip to Mogoke, where she rallied supporters in favor of amending the country’s Constitution.
Asked for her opinion on how best to control the influx of Chinese nationals that have increasingly come to populate the city over the last two decades, Suu Kyi deferred to the responsible officials in Naypyidaw.
“The responsibility to protect citizens is in the hands of the government” she said.
“We have to ask, ‘Who has given the opportunities to those illegal migrants?’ If the government does not protect its own people and the country, no foreign government will think to do so.”
The Mandalay-based writers complained that the busiest parts of Burma’s second city, and the local businesses therein, were increasingly dominated by Chinese immigrants who had entered the country illegally but later managed to secure Burmese citizenship.
The writers also brought up the controversial Myitsone hydropower dam, a Chinese-backed megaproject that was suspended by President Thein Sein in 2011 amid widespread public opposition.
“We all need to live harmoniously with the world, especially with neighboring countries. But we need a good government that respects its citizens and is willing to take up its duty to protect the country’s sovereignty,” Suu Kyi said in response to the writers’ concerns about talk of a resumption of construction on the dam.
The writers accused Chinese nationals, many of whom do not speak the Burmese language, of paying large sums of money to buy homes and plots of land located in the city center, in the process pushing the properties’ former residents to the outskirts of Burma’s ancient capital. Rising property prices in downtown Mandalay are said to have put the prime landholdings out of reach for most Burmese residents in the market for real estate.
The Mandalay writers said they had written many articles about Burmese residents who had sold their homes in Mandalay and then taken up residence on the outskirts of the city.
“Mandalay has silently fallen into the hands of the Chinese—culturally, socially and economically. … The problems of these illegal migrants has become one of the important matters for 2015 [when national elections will take place]. We don’t want the same thing to happen to other cities, and the country,” said Hsu Nget, a prominent Mandalay-based writer, at the gathering.
During the meeting, Suu Kyi urged the writers to unite in encouraging the people through their literature to participate in politics, which she said was the concern of every citizen.
“Since the writers are indirectly or directly engaged with the politics of the country, I would like to request that you encourage the people with your works—without bias—for those who do not understand and are afraid to engage with the country’s politics,” Suu Kyi said.