How China Pushes Its Agenda in Myanmar Media

The plight of thousands of women from Kachin and Shan states trafficked into forced marriages in China has attracted global attention, with numerous major news outlets and human rights groups covering the crisis. But one Myanmar language publication recently gave a different take on the experiences of women in marriages across the border. 

An August 13 article by the Pauk Phaw newspaper omitted the horror stories and instead highlighted a Chinese man and a Kachin woman walking a “happy and pleasant road” together. “During my five years of marriage in China, I was able to live in a new house and got a cleaning job. I felt very thankful and fulfilled,” the woman was quoted as saying. 

Pauk Phaw is controlled by the Propaganda Department of the local government in Dehong, an area in China’s Yunnan province that borders Kachin and Shan states. It is one of a growing number of platforms through which China is seeking to reshape public opinion about its influence in Myanmar. 

China has asserted its economic power with energy and infrastructure projects across Myanmar, fueling local opposition to the superpower’s efforts to tap the country’s resources. 

One of Beijing’s most important projects inside Myanmar, the Myitsone dam in Kachin state, was suspended in 2011 because of protests by locals who say it will cause widespread environmental destruction and displacement.    

Since then Chinese officials have launched a major charm offensive aimed at convincing politicians, academics, journalists and the public of the benefits of economic engagement between Myanmar and its neighbour.  

As part of those efforts, China has quietly extended its influence throughout large sections of Myanmar’s media, sometimes funding and influencing local coverage without making its involvement known.    

China announced in 2009 that it planned to spend $6.6 billion on expanding its global media presence. It has since set about hiring foreign nationals to work for its state-run outlets and opening up news bureaus around the world. 

The Director General of China Radio International (CRI), Wang Gengnian, who visited Myanmar in 2012 to sign an agreement to broadcast Chinese TV shows, is known for describing Beijing’s efforts to spread its message internationally as “borrowing a boat to go to sea.” The phrase refers to a strategy of using established media in foreign countries to push the Chinese narrative. 

A Myanmar Now investigation has identified a dozen social media pages and media organisations publishing China-friendly news and programs, or which have been asked to republish content supplied by China’s state-run media.

‘Irresponsible’ media 

The Dehong Media Group, the state-owned company that publishes Pauk Phaw, has a content-sharing agreement with the Myitkyina News Journal, one of Kachin state’s most respected newspapers, Myanmar Now has found. 

Seng Mai Maran, the paper’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, told Myanmar Now one reason she entered the agreement was to get access to more Chinese sources. 

“There are many Chinese companies in this region but most of them don’t have spokespeople. They only came to invest but say nothing to journalists and the media. We collaborated (with Pauk Phaw) in the hope of getting sources,” she said. 

The Myitkyina News Journal mostly republishes Pauk Phaw stories about trade between the two countries, she added, while Pauk Phaw only publishes business and entertainment stories from her paper. 

“Since most of our stories are about armed conflict and politics, they hardly ever republish them,” she said. Her staff also help to distribute “a few” copies of Pauk Phaw in Kachin state, she added. 

Pauk Phaw did not respond to a request for an interview.   

The content-sharing agreement between Dehong Media Group and Myitkyina News Journal. (Photo: Pauk Phaw 胞波 Facebook)

It is not just regional media where China is seeking to extend its influence. The national 7Day newspaper, which has over 23 million followers on Facebook, has also published stories and advertorials from Chinese state media.  

They included a series of three two-page advertorials promoting China’s global infrastructure building drive, called the Belt and Road Initiative, which coincided with a visit in April by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to China to attend a forum on the initiative. 

The paper’s chief editor, Ahr Mahn, told Myanmar Now that the Chinese news agency Xinhua contacted the marketing team to place the stories, but later representatives from the Chinese embassy and another state-run paper, Guangming Daily, also got in touch offering money in exchange for running pro-China content. 

One proposed story was aimed at counteracting negative publicity about China luring Myanmar into a “debt trap” with development loans. Guangming Daily employees put 7Day in touch with Chinese embassy staff, who showed up in person at 7Day’s office to give editors there copies of the piece, which said the debt trap narrative was perpetuated by “irresponsible” media outlets. 

Another piece claimed local unrest in Myanmar was orchestrated by Western countries. It said the situation was comparable to Hong Kong, where China has claimed foreign influence is behind the mass demonstrations underway there.

The paper decided against publishing these stories because they went against its editorial policies, Ahr Mahn said. 

But other Myanmar outlets did agree to publish the debt trap article in August. They include Mizzima’s Myanmar language edition, the Kachin-based Eternally Peace News Network (EPN), and an outlet called Myanma Platform. 

None gave an author’s name and only Mizzima marked the piece as an advertorial, though studies have shown that most readers do not realise they are reading paid-for content even when it is marked as such. Myanma Platform and EPN were among several outlets that also published the Hong Kong article the same day. First Weekly Journal, Pyi Myanmar Newspaper, and the Speaker Weekly Journal also published it. 

The Voice Daily, one of Myanmar’s top daily newspapers, published it across two pages in exchange for one million kyat (about $650), a source at the newspaper said.

Mizzima, a formerly exiled news outlet, has republished opinion pieces from the Chinese government mouthpiece the Global Times since 2016. Myo Thant, a former Mizzima editor, said the two publications had a content-sharing agreement and Mizzima did not receive any money for publishing the pieces. 

Over the past few months, Ahr Mahn has met two different Chinese businessmen who showed interest in buying shares in his paper or in other media companies, he said. 

A number of local newspapers in Yangon recently published a Chinese propaganda article about the protests in Hong Kong.

Building a platform

Myanma Platform, a Yangon-based online publication, launched in 2017, now has 16 staffers and more than two million followers on Facebook, which is the primary source of news for many people in Myanmar. 

It has published at least 25 articles this year that are China-friendly or which argue in favour of hydropower dams. A copy of the outlet’s internal guidelines seen by Myanmar Now states that “articles about China’s administrative policy, economic system and society, which balance weaknesses and strengths, should be featured.”

Myanma Platform’s manager, U Nyein, is also an executive member of the Myanmar-China Friendship Association, a group aimed at boosting bi-lateral relations. Senior members of the association have had articles published in Myanma Platform, said editor-in-chief Ngwe Sandy. But the outlet only publishes content from the association if it conforms to its editorial policies, she added.

U Nyein, manager of Myanmar Platform, at his office in Yangon. July 3, 2019. (Photo: Tin Htet Paing/ Myanmar Now)

“If we write about something, it should at least be positive for Myanmar. If not, we don’t write about it. We do not write about anything that attacks anybody. That is our rule,” U Nyein told Myanmar Now.

Two former employees of Myanma Platform told Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity that Chinese nationals visited the outlet’s office multiple times. One of the former employees said the venture is backed by Chinese businessmen.

When asked about the involvement of Chinese nationals, U Nyein grew angry and threatened legal action against anyone who claimed the outlet had Chinese investors. 

“This is very, very wrong and we will sue if anybody says such things recklessly,” he told Myanmar Now. 

But the involvement of Chinese nationals in senior positions at the paper is clearly documented on official paperwork published on the website of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA).

There are five Chinese nationals on Myanma Platform’s board of directors, as well as two Myanmar nationals, DICA’s website shows. 

Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, attended Myanma Platform’s launch event in 2017. He said he was suspicious of the fact that members of the Myanmar Chinese Chamber of Commerce, rather than media professionals, represented the outlet at the event. 

“I do not know exactly what the company’s purposes are but I think they are building a platform through which to give certain opinions or propaganda to readers when they want to,” said Myint Kyaw. 

As well as pushing its narrative in local outlets, China has sought to build cozy relationships with journalists. Hundreds of Myanmar journalists are estimated to have visited China on junkets funded by Beijing in recent years. 

Sein Win Aung, who served as Myanmar’s ambassador in Beijing from 2001 to 2003 and is a patron of Mandalay Today Magazine, is one of those involved in selecting reporters and writers to join the trips.

“We choose those who will write the truth when they come back,” he told Myanmar Now. Some writers, he added, “hate the Chinese. If we choose them, there is no benefit and it’s a waste of money.”

He added: “Myanmar has been suffering and it will take time to stand independently. To do it quickly, it needs external support. The quickest way to get what it needs is from China.”

Pro-Chinese content are published as “advertorials” in local newspapers in Myanmar. China Today Magazine is published by the Chinese embassy in Yangon.

Film festival along pipeline route 

Another outlet used by Beijing to promote its agenda is the Myanmar-language China Today Magazine, which is distributed for free. The magazine is produced by (Myanmar), which is an affiliate of the state-owned China Radio International (CRI). Its official publisher is the Chinese embassy in Yangon. publishes in 25 different languages and says it has 10 million regular readers. A shareholder of, Global Broadcasting Media Group, was established by CRI. A 2015 Reuters investigation revealed CRI was running a network of 33 radio stations in 14 countries while obscuring the fact that it was the majority shareholder. 

Tommy Jiang, president of Global CAMG International Media Group, a company affiliated with CRI, told MITV in 2015 that’s Myanmar language website was meant to “be like a bridge and window to promote Myanmar to the world.”

But the website’s Myanmar Facebook page has repeatedly published cartoons about the Rohingya crisis that are likely to alienate some countries. One cartoon criticised the way Bangladesh’s prime minister has handled the crisis. and CRI did not respond to requests for comment. The phone number listed on’s Myanmar Facebook page is the same number for a Myanmar-registered company called Monnect. Monnect says in its company profile that it is a branch company of Global CAMG Australia.

Monnect is organising a film festival that will start next week in towns along the route of the controversial Shwe Gas Pipeline on behalf of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp, which runs the project. 

Another outlet publishing China friendly content is Myanmar International Radio, which broadcasts in English 24 hours a day and covers Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw. MI Radio was founded in 2018 as a joint project between the Ministry of Information and Shwe Than Lwin Media, which has several contracts to air shows from different Chinese stations, including Yunnan TV.  

Huang Kunming, the head of the Communist Party of China’s Propaganda Department, visited the offices of Shwe Than Lwin media and MI radio and urged more collaboration with China during a trip to Myanmar in July 2018, state media reported. 

Huang Kunming, the head of the Communist Party of China’s Propaganda Department visited Shwe Than Lwin Media and Myanmar International Radio offices during a trip to Myanmar in July 2018. (Photo: MI Radio)

Beijing-friendly Facebook pages 

While China blocks Facebook in its own country, its news outlets operating in other countries embrace the platform. Xinhua’s Myanmar language Facebook page has more than 66 million followers in Myanmar, even though the national population is only 53 million and there are only slightly more than 20 million active Facebook users. CRI Myanmar’s page has over 1 million followers. 

As well as hard news outlets, Beijing also uses pages that primarily publish lifestyle and well-being content to push its agenda. One page, called Systematic Knowledge, has nearly 400,000 followers. Mixed amongst its tips about mindfulness and healthy living are posts which argue in favour of hydropower projects or power plants. In July 45 posts, 22 percent of the total for the month, were aimed at promoting energy projects, Myanmar Now found. 

Myint Kyaw, the Myanmar Press Council joint secretary, said while he finds it acceptable to spread propaganda transparently the way Xinhua does, he thinks it’s unethical for Facebook pages to republish pro-China content while obscuring its source.  

“Presenting themselves as local social media platforms while spreading Chinese propaganda is cheating,” he said. 

Trips to China 

The Chinese government and various Chinese organisations have invited more than a thousand Myanmar professionals including journalists, government officials and legislators on trips in recent years, according to a study by the Myanmar-based Institute for Strategy and Policy. 

The study estimates hundreds of journalists were among those who went along for the visits which are often billed as exchange trips, study tours, or trainings. 

Seng Mai Maran, the Myitkyina News Journal editor, said her paper’s staffers have been on three such trips to China. On one trip that she attended, Chinese media representatives showed off high-end equipment and offered to upgrade Myanmar newsrooms. 

“They said we can contact them anytime if we want to equip our platforms that way,” she said. “They showed us around their offices and asked us how western countries have been supporting us. I have a feeling that they want to approach us in the way western countries are doing now.”

Many Myanmar media outlets are funded by Western donors, often US based, such as the USAID, which funds Myanmar Now

Li Fusheng, head of information and public affairs at the Chinese embassy in Yangon, said the embassy did not know how many trips China has hosted for Myanmar journalists. The trips are aimed at promoting understanding between the two countries, he added.  

Khin Khin Kyaw Kyee, the researcher behind the study on journalists’ trips to China, said that while Beijing has the power and funding to reshape public perceptions, it will take time to overcome widespread public mistrust. 

“Our decisions about whether to like or dislike something are based on the information we can get… when these information channels are controlled, our opinions change,” she said. 

But deep-seated anti-Chinese sentiment means people in Myanmar will not willingly embrace pro-Beijing narratives, she added. “They want to deal with China with extreme caution and there is still the view that China should be handled with care.”

Edited by Joshua Carroll


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