In a New York Times op-ed titled Are Myanmar’s Hopes Fading?, Aung Zaw, founder of Irrawaddy, reminded us about clashes last year “between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanm [that] killed at least 180 people and displaced more than 120,000, mostly Rohingyas. Last month, violence spread to central Myanmar, killing dozens and leaving more than 13,000 homeless.” Many, he adds, “fear that the deadly anti-Muslim riots are no accident but the product of an effort led by army hard-liners to thwart both the reforms and Myanmar’s opening to the world.”
… I have no doubt that national officials bear some responsibility, and that the violence suggests a power struggle within the elite. Infighting between hard-line and moderate forces in the government, which took power two summers ago under the moderate general Thein Sein, is no secret. His cabinet, Parliament and the army remain dominated by holdovers from the regime of the former dictator Gen. Than Shwe. Many are resisting President Thein Sein’s reforms.
The generals who ruled the country for five decades control much of the nation’s wealth, and some are close to Chinese interests that stand to be eclipsed if Myanmar deepens economic ties to the West. The anti-Muslim violence is a useful distraction from Burmese grievances against China, whose heavy-handed economic activities have bred resentments across much of Southeast Asia.
Muslims, long a convenient scapegoat and exponentially more so since the advent of the likes of Al Qaeda, have become a casualty of hidebound forces attempting to retain power and their share of what China invests in Burma.