China Demands Myanmar Protect Its Citizens As Chinese Factories Torched, Protesters Killed

China's foreign ministry has called on the Myanmar military to protect Chinese nationals after Chinese factories were burned amid a worsening crackdown against pro-democracy, anti-coup demonstrators across the country.

At least 38 people were killed on Sunday in one of the bloodiest days since the military launched a coup to depose the democratically-elected government last month. The military junta has now declared martial law in six areas as troops try to crush massive protests against the coup with mass arrests, disappearances, and shootings of unarmed protesters.

At least 126 people are believed to have been killed by security forces to date, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Several Chinese-funded factories were vandalized and set on fire during Sunday's protests, with some Chinese nationals injured according to the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar. Beijing—a key ally of Myanmar and its military, which has failed to speak out against the coup—said Monday that security forces should protect its interests.

"China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar," the embassy said, according to the state-owned CGTN.

It is not clear who attacked the factories and no group has claimed responsibility. China's state-owned nationalistic Global Times newspaper said that 32 Chinese-invested factories were "vandalized in vicious attacks," putting the damages at some $37 million and reporting injuries to two Chinese staff members.

The Global Times also published an editorial calling for the perpetrators to be "severely punished," suggesting the attacks were "apparently well organized and planned."

Pro-democracy protesters have been broadly suspicious of China due to its close ties with the Myanmar junta and its failure to speak out against the coup. The Chinese embassy in Myanmar's largest city Yangon has been the site of regular demonstrations against the military takeover.

Beijing did back a United Nations resolution that "strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protestors" and called on the military to "exercise utmost restraint," but opponents of the military say China could do more.

In a statement released Sunday, China called on the protesters in Myanmar to express their demands lawfully and to not undermine the country's ties with China, which when combined with Hong Kong was the largest foreign investor in Myanmar in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a leader of the anti-coup protests, wrote on Twitter that the Chinese government can best protect its business interests by denouncing the coup. "Chinese Govt must stop supporting coup council if they actually care abt Sino-Myanmar Relations & to protect their businesses in the country," she wrote.

The protesters, she said, "dont hate Chinese People, we been good neighbors but CCP must understand their recent statement outrage Myanmar People."

Myanmar protesters in Yangon face down military
Protesters wearing protective equipment sit on a makeshift barricade meant to deter security forces during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar township in Myanmar on March 14, 2021. STR/AFP via Getty Images