TIME Malaysia

Rohingya Survivors Speak of Their Ordeals as 139 Suspected Graves Are Found in Malaysia

Human remains being disinterred from an informal cemetery near an abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.
James Nachtwey for TIME Human remains being disinterred from an informal cemetery near an abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.

Burma's persecuted Muslim minority takes unspeakable risks into order to flee to Malaysia

Less than a kilometer from Malaysia’s border with Thailand, the trappings of death are littered across the jungle: a stretcher made of branches to carry bodies, reams of white cloth used to wrap the deceased in Muslim tradition and, most menacing of all, empty boxes for 9-mm bullets.

On May 25, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed that there were at least 139 suspected graves strewn across the Perlis range of hills that rise from Malaysia into Thailand, in the vicinity of nearly 30 abandoned camps. How many bodies each possible grave contains is not yet clear, nor is it known how the people may have died. But these remains are believed to be a grim by-product of the human-smuggling trade that for years has transported persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Burma, as well as, increasingly, Bangladeshis desperate to escape poverty back home.

For years, desperate individuals have boarded rickety boats to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, then trekked through Thailand’s southern jungles to their ultimate destination: Malaysia. But with the smuggling routes through Thailand into Malaysia disrupted by police investigations, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis are thought by the U.N. to be stuck at sea, as traffickers figure out how to salvage their human cargo and captains abandon the boats for fear of the official crackdown.

Around 3,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, after months at sea. With Southeast Asian governments at first unwilling to take them in, the boats — their holds packed with hundreds of people, like modern-day slave ships — floated between different national waters in what the U.N. described as “human ping pong.” Only last week did the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia officially agree to offer shelter.

For now, the suspected graves in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state are marked with lone branches, the earth covered by a scattering of oversized rainforest leaves. On Tuesday, forensic teams — including one that recently returned from Ukraine, the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet — began sifting through the soil to recover bodies. It is a process that forensic analysts gathered at a makeshift police encampment in Wang Kelian, a few kilometers from the hill-top burial grounds, say will take weeks, if not months.

Only one body was discovered above ground. It was found in a wooden holding pen, the lower part wrapped in the sarong that is commonly worn in Burma and parts of Bangladesh. So badly decomposed was the body that forensic investigators removed it from the site in five separate bags.

An abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.
James Nachtwey for TIMEAn abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.

Malaysia’s suspected burial ground is not the first to be discovered along the porous border with Thailand. Earlier this month, 33 bodies were unearthed in Thailand, less than 500 m from some of the Malaysian suspected graves on the opposite side. Initial police reports indicated that the cause of death for most of the bodies found in Thailand was either starvation or disease. Often, according to TIME interviews with more than 20 Rohingya who have taken the same trafficking route through Thailand into Malaysia, the agreed-upon price for the journey is jettisoned once the victims reach the jungle camps on the border. There, they are essentially held to ransom until family members either back home or in Malaysia pay much higher sums. Food is scarce and beatings common, say survivors.

Shanu binti Abdul Hussain says she, her three small children and her brother-in-law were imprisoned in a camp of the Thai side of the border for 26 days in December before her husband, who was already working in Malaysia’s Penang state, was able to meet a $4,150 ransom. (The family originally was told the voyage would cost one-third the price.) Her husband, Mohamed Rafiq, was given a Malaysian bank account number and sent the money through a cash-deposit machine in Penang. “Waiting after I sent the money was the hardest part,” he says. “I thought, what if the money was too late? What if one of my children has died?”

Since beginning their operation on May 11, Malaysian police have found a network of 28 camps deep in the Perlis jungle, one of which North Brigade police officer Mohd. Salen bin Mohd. Hussain estimates was abandoned just one week before it was discovered. Police believe one camp held 300 people, while others are far smaller. Crude holding pens girded by saplings hint at forced confinement, as does a coil of metal chains. Sentry tree houses poke through the foliage. “I am not surprised by the presence of smuggling syndicates,” Malaysian national police chief Khalid tells TIME. “But the depth of the cruelty, the torture, all this death, that has shocked me.”

This year, Malaysian police say they have arrested 37 people in connection with human smuggling, including two policemen from the state of Penang. In 2014, 66 people were charged in connection with the trade. But for human traffickers to have operated in border areas with such impunity for so many years — no matter how thick the foliage may be — it’s hard to imagine a complete lack of official complicity. Earlier this month, the mayor and deputy mayor of the Thai border town Padang Besar were arrested. Other local officials in Thailand have been detained.

Yet the trade has been going on for years, with the number of Rohingya fleeing Burma (officially known as Myanmar) escalating after Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Rakhine (or Arakan) state exploded in 2012, with the stateless Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of this Muslim minority are believed to have died, and around 140,000 have been herded into camps, where disease stalks a vulnerable population. Bereft of their homes and land, many Rohingya see opportunity in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, no matter how hard the journey. Others allege they were kidnapped onto trafficking boats, as the smugglers struggle to find enough people to fill their holds. The traffickers are also targeting Bangladeshis from across the border with Burma; they, unlike the Rohingya, have little hope of ever gaining refugee status in Southeast Asia.

So far, Malaysian police have been combing a 50-km stretch of the Perlis jungle. What else will be found in the coming days? Locals speak of ghosts up in the hills by the Thai border. “I thought I would die,” says Dilarah, a Rohingya, of her 38-day journey from western Burma, through the camps on the Thai-Malaysian border. She is 6 years old.

TIME China

Why China and India Just Can’t Get Along

India's PM Modi presents a bouquet to China's President Xi before their meeting in Ahmedabad
Amit Dave—Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, presents a bouquet to China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad on Sept. 17, 2014

A stunning dearth of fraternal ties exist between the two Asian superpowers

In the 7th century, a Chinese monk traversed a ribbon of the Silk Road, through the forbidding Taklamakan desert and over the mighty Tianshan peaks, to India. The Buddhist cleric’s name was Xuanzang, and he spent 17 years abroad before returning home with a cache of sutras and religious relics.

On Thursday, Narendra Modi will make his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India. With China’s President Xi Jinping at his side — a rare instance in which a Chinese leader will greet a foreign leader outside of Beijing — Modi is expected to pay respects to one of the first devotees of globalization. It’s no small irony that an ancient Buddhist pilgrim will bring together a Hindu nationalist and a Communist princeling.

Yet for all the feting of Xuanzang, India and China’s relations remain tenuous. The world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of humanity. Yet bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense. “The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved,” says Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Imagine: there is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India, according to the Indian Ministry of Tourism. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors last year.

Ahead of his China trip, Modi joined Weibo, the Chinese social-media service that has flourished partly because Twitter is blocked by Chinese censors. Modi may be a Twitter rock star, with 12.2 million followers, but he has attracted fewer than 50,000 fans on Weibo. By comparison, Apple CEO Tim Cook garnered 300,000 Weibo acolytes within 3½ hours of joining the Chinese microblogging network this week. Modi’s Weibo feed was seized upon by Chinese nationalists who demanded that India return “South Tibet,” as they refer to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. “South Tibet belongs to China,” went one comment. “Give it back to us. Otherwise we will take it back by force sooner or later.”

Such incendiary rhetoric notwithstanding, Modi spoke on the eve of his China trip of resetting the Sino-Indian relationship, focusing on economic pragmatism over troublesome politics. “I look forward to working out a road map for qualitatively upgrading our economic relations and seek greater Chinese participation in India’s economic growth,” he told Chinese media in New Delhi, “especially in transforming India’s manufacturing sector and infrastructure.”

MORE: Exclusive Interview With Narendra Modi: ‘We Are Natural Allies’

Still, the stumbling blocks are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whose political counterpart Modi invited to his inauguration last year. Asked to comment on Sino-Indian ties, several India experts from leading Chinese universities refused to talk to TIME, citing the sensitivity of the bilateral relationship.

The Global Times, a daily affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial on Monday accusing Modi of “playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China.” The editorial, written by an academic at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, went on to criticize the “Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy,” as well as “the inferiority of [India’s] ordinary people.”

When Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. (India’s trade deficit with China reached $45 billion last year.) The bonhomie of Xi’s India trip was also marred by a strategic joust by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Fourteen centuries ago, Xuanzang so impressed his countrymen that his travels inspired one of the most treasured classics in the Chinese literary canon, Journey to the West. Later during Modi’s China tour, in Shanghai, the Indian PM is slated to preside over the signing of a movie project celebrating Xuanzang’s life that will be jointly made by Chinese and Indian film studios.

But it’s also worth remembering that Xuanzang’s journey west was forbidden by the Chinese Emperor, who was battling Turkic nomads on the Middle Kingdom’s periphery and had therefore banned most Chinese from venturing abroad. By the time Xuanzang returned to China, his spiritual exploits trumped any imperial embargo. Still, even China’s most celebrated pilgrim was, for a time, an outlaw for visiting India.

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Companies

Apple and China’s Love Affair Surges as Tim Cook Visits Beijing

Apple Previews Its New Watch, As Company Begins To Take Pre-Orders
Stephen Lam—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook displays his personal Apple Watch to customers at an Apple Store on April 10, 2015, in Palo Alto, Calif.

The CEO was promoting Apple’s efforts to manage forests in partnership with WWF

China’s smartphone market may have contracted 4% year on year in the first three months of 2015, according to tech data firm IDC, but Apple isn’t feeling the pain. During that same period, the California tech giant’s revenues in greater China expanded by 71% to $16.8 billion, outpacing Apple’s overall global growth of 27.2%. Apple is now the largest smartphone vendor in China — the pole position that Samsung held a year ago — with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus driving local sales.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook traveled to China to celebrate Chinese consumers who have snapped up more iPhones this year than their American counterparts. On Monday, Cook joined Weibo, the Twitter-like social-media service that has succeeded in part because Twitter is banned from China. While Weibo is battling other popular domestic social-media networks like WeChat, the arrival of an Apple CEO still commanded plenty of attention. Within 3½ hours of joining Weibo, Cook had attracted 300,000 followers. (By Tuesday morning, he had around 400,000 followers.)

Cook’s inaugural Weibo message? “Hello China! Happy to be back in Beijing, announcing innovative environmental programs.” Apple has endured criticism for the way some of its China-based suppliers have treated their workers, as well as for the high price of its handsets in China. But Cook was in town to promote Apple’s efforts to manage forests in partnership with WWF.

TIME China

China Ties Officials’ Promotions to Saving the Environment

People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo
China Daily/Reuters People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo, Henan province, China, on March 16, 2015

No longer is rampant growth the Communist Party's overriding priority

For decades, Chinese officials’ job prospects have depended on one factor above all others: economic growth. The incentive structure seemed to make sense given that China has enjoyed one of the greatest economic expansions in human history. But on May 5, new Chinese regulations added another inducement to the mix: environmental protection. Officials will be held accountable for the air, water and soil in areas under their control. Should they fail an environmental responsibility audit, promotions will be nixed.

It’s no secret that China’s breakneck growth has devastated the country’s environment. Even by the government’s own reckoning — which some consider an underestimation of the problem — only eight of 74 Chinese cities met national standards for clean air last year, according to state newswire Xinhua. Sixty percent of ground water in one official survey was deemed “bad” or “very bad,” reported Xinhua.

Beijing is now talking tough and last year declared a “war against pollution.” A revised environmental law, which took effect on Jan. 1, promises to target polluters and officials who fake environmental data. Last month, construction on a controversial $3.75 billion dam was blocked. During his annual address in March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed “a firm and unrelenting approach to ensure blue skies, clear waters, and sustainable development.”

According to Xinhua, the government guidelines released on May 5 state that “by 2020, China aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% to 45% from the 2005 level, and increase the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15%.”

Earlier this year, a documentary made by former state TV journalist Chai Jing showed how state-owned industries were complicit in degrading China’s environment. The online video racked up more than 200 million views, and the country’s new Environment Minister Chen Jining praised China’s version of Rachel Carson. But a few days later, the video was pulled from the Chinese digital space.

Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist and former journalist, wrote about Chai for this year’s TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. (Ma is also a former TIME 100 honoree.) Reacting to the latest antipollution guidelines, Ma wrote on his microblog: “In the future, officials will feel more pressure to protect the environment. But how to assess the officials’ efforts to protect the environment is still a pivotal issue.”

Indeed, China’s Environment Minister has described the need for the country’s environmental legislation to have “steel teeth,” rather than acting as a “paper tiger.” So will the latest guidelines, which were formulated by China’s Cabinet, be enforced? Even the Xinhua article about the new policies ended with a note of caution, quoting a government-affiliated academic:

“The key for the next step is whether we can seriously implement the guideline,” noted Wang Yi, head of the Institute of Policy and Management under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Aviation

More Chinese Airlines Are Flying to the U.S. Than American Carriers to China

A China Southern Boeing 787, with Tail Number B-2727, taxis at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco
Louis Nastro—Reuters A China Southern Boeing 787 taxis at San Francisco International Airport,, Calif., April 11, 2015

Chinese airlines have abysmal on-time records but are expanding rapidly into North America

Planning to fly from Nanjing or Changsha to Los Angeles? Or Beijing to San Jose? Or Wuhan to San Francisco? If so, a Chinese airline has a flight for you — and chances are you’ll be traveling in a spiffy new Boeing 777 or 787.

This year, for the first time ever, more Chinese airlines will be flying to the U.S. than American carriers will be heading to China, according to CAPA-Center for Aviation. During this year’s peak July 1 to Sept. 20 time period, CAPA calculates that four major Chinese carriers — Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan — will send 2,028 flights to the U.S. per week, compared to 1,853 a week from U.S. airlines.

Just four years ago, American carriers offered almost twice as many flights on U.S.-China routes as their Chinese counterparts did, according to CAPA. But as more Chinese travel abroad, demand for trans-Pacific flights has skyrocketed. With the U.S. relaxing visa rules for Chinese, the boom looks set to continue. In two years — July 2013 to July 2015 — flight capacity between China and North America has increased by around 60%, according to CAPA and OAG figures.

Indeed, by 2034, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that one in five passengers worldwide will be traveling to, from or within China. Chinese airlines, naturally, are keen to exploit this massive market.

American airlines have likewise been targeting China — and low fuel prices are helping wring profits out of these notoriously costly long-haul routes. United has added a route to the interior Chinese city of Chengdu and now connects Shanghai to Guam; the American carrier still ferries more passengers between the two countries than its closest Chinese rival, Air China. This year, American Airlines will begin flying between Dallas and Beijing, and Delta will start a Shanghai-Los Angeles service.

But Chinese airlines are also expanding aggressively, particularly in so-called secondary cities, like Nanjing over nearby Shanghai. This summer, China Eastern will begin flying between Nanjing and Los Angeles, while China Southern already carries passengers between the central Chinese city of Wuhan and San Francisco. Further north, Sichuan Airlines controls the Shenyang-Vancouver route. In 2010, there was only an average of one long-haul flight a day to a Chinese secondary city, reports CAPA. By the end of 2015, there will be 11.

The expansion by Chinese carriers will mean smaller crowds of Chinese at Hong Kong, Japanese and South Korean airports, which have thrived as stop-over points for Chinese traversing the Pacific. China is undergoing an airport building-spree, with plans unveiled for nearly 70 new airports. Beijing, which expanded its current airport for the 2008 Olympics, is building a new airport that should be ready for business by the end of 2018. Chengdu’s new airport will have capacity for 80 million passengers per year.

Yet for all the expansion, China’s skies remain chaotic. In part because the military hogs most of China’s airspace, Chinese commercial airlines are cursed with some of the worst on-time records of any carriers in the world. Last month, IATA’s director general Tony Tyler chastised China for its air-traffic woes. Already, nearly 70,000 flights criss-cross the country a week. What will happen when more flights — and new local airlines — take off?

Even more troubling, growth in the Chinese airline industry has depended on government subsidies and grants, which numbered upwards of $1 billion last year. “Chinese airlines have outperformed American airlines over the past few years,” acknowledges Gao Anni, an airlines analyst at Kairui consultancy, pointing to the hit American airlines took during the 2008 financial crisis at the same time that Chinese carriers were profiting from the rapid growth in domestic travel. But, Gao notes, “there are huge management efficiency gaps between Chinese airlines and American airlines, even with the help of government subsidies.”

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME China

Is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Book of Speeches Really a Best Seller?

A newsstand vendor returns change to a customer near a book titled "Xi Jinping: The governance of China" displayed on sale in central Beijing
Jason Lee—Reuters A newsstand vendor returns change to a customer near a book titled Xi Jinping: The Governance of China displayed on sale in central Beijing on Dec. 10, 2014

The publisher claims Xi's book has already sold 4 million copies since last year, including 400,000 overseas

This September, China’s President Xi Jinping will travel to the U.S., the confident leader’s first state visit there since taking helm of the world’s second largest economy in late 2012. Americans who wish to know Xi better will get a chance next month when his book will be formally launched in the U.S. during a New York City book fair.

The first book to be published by a sitting Chinese President, Xi Jinping: the Governance of China is a 516-page collection of 79 of Xi’s speeches, interviews, instructions and correspondence — all clarified by notes on China’s history and culture. The book’s plain white cover features Xi’s disembodied head floating above the title. Readers can peruse 45 biographical pictures inside. Chapters look at China’s economic development, ecology and the unfolding anticorruption campaign. An English-language hardcover edition is listed at $32.56 on Amazon.

The book’s U.S. launch in late May will occur at BookExpo America (BEA), according to its Chinese publisher, which is sending a delegation to attend the trade fair. This year, BEA will be focusing on China. The China-related books that will be on offer tend to hew to a version of Chinese history that will surely please the Chinese Communist Party. Events at the New York book fair include sessions on a 25-volume collection that gives a “panoramic view of the crimes committed to the Chinese people by Japanese militarists” and a study of the time Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun spent as a communist revolutionary in the caves of Yan’an.

During the British launch of Xi’s compendium earlier this month at the London Book Fair, China’s Ambassador to the U.K. Liu Xiaoming described it — and the man himself — in glowing terms. “Readers will appreciate President Xi’s wisdom, charisma and leadership style,” Liu said on April 15. “President Xi has a literary style that is sincere, candid, unadorned and vivid.” Late last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose social-media site is currently banned in China, was quoted by Chinese media saying he had bought the book for his employees so that they could understand China’s political system.

The Xi book’s publisher claims it has already sold 4 million copies since last year, including 400,000 copies overseas. Foreign-language editions have been published in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Japanese.

Yet on Amazon, the hardcover English edition of Xi’s book is 420,914th in the website’s April 20 sales rankings. Xi’s speeches and other musings are not included among this year’s top 100 best sellers on Dangdang, a leading Chinese online bookstore. (The book, however, is listed as the 53rd most popular book on Dangdang over the past 30 days.) Currently, Dangdang’s top-selling book is a Chinese translation of The Kite Runner.

While China-watchers, like Zuckerberg, may be poring over Xi’s tome, the reaction at home, where the book sells for roughly $13, may be different. At the Beijing Xidan bookstore, a store manager surnamed Yang said her shop was offering a deal in which people who purchased more than 1,000 copies could receive a 15% discount. But Yang admits Xi’s book isn’t selling very well. “The book is not cheap,” she says.

Chinese Communist Party members and civil servants are regularly instructed to read up on key speeches by top officials. Perhaps that’s why there’s not as much interest in buying Xi’s book. “Why should I bother reading his book if I haven’t been asked to read it?” asks a 26-year-old health and family-planning official from Sichuan, who declined to give her name because of the sensitivity of the topic. “We are actually pretty busy.”

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Burma

China Accuses Burmese Military of Fatal Bombing Across Border

Rebel soldiers of Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) patrol near a military base in Kokang region
Reuters Rebel soldiers of Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army patrol near a military base in Kokang region, in Burma, on March 10, 2015

Fighting between Burma's border-dwelling ethnic rebels and the central government is making Beijing increasingly tetchy

A sugarcane field in southwestern China became an unlikely battle zone on March 13 when five Chinese were killed by a bomb that fell out of the sky. Two days later, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang blamed the deaths on a Burmese military aircraft that had strayed over Chinese soil while skirmishing with the Kokang ethnic insurgency native to the borderlands between China and Burma, which is officially known as Myanmar. “We have the responsibility and the capacity to firmly safeguard the security and stability of the Chinese-Myanmar frontier,” said Li during his annual press conference, while also calling the strike in Yunnan province’s Lincang region “deeply distressing.”

In a statement released to TIME on Monday, the Burmese government insisted it was “maintaining [military] operations within the territory of Myanmar and respecting the territorial integrity and friendly relations between Myanmar and China.” And while expressing “deep sorrow for the death and injuries of Chinese nationals living in border areas,” and noting that a joint Sino-Burmese task force would be investigating the deaths further, the Burmese government also questioned “whether the Kokang insurgent group is involved in this incident to [create] a negative impact on the friendship between Myanmar and China and to create instability along the border area.”

Beijing, which is Burma’s largest investor, is surely not pleased by the latest tensions on its southwestern flank, which is the conduit for the many natural resources — jade, natural gas, timber, to name just three — that flow northward from Burma to a voracious China. Fighting, though, is nothing new along this volatile frontier. For generations, the Burmese military has battled various ethnic rebel groups that crowd the hills rising up toward the Chinese border. Despite promises of an imminent national cease-fire from Burma’s quasi-civilian government, which took over in 2011 from a long-ruling junta, clashes continue.

Recent hostilities involve the Kokang, the Kachin, the Shan and the Ta’ang, among other ethnic groups. The Kokang are ethnically Chinese and have long maintained political ties across the border. Some in the opium-tainted region once aligned themselves with the Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist government that lost to the Communists during China’s civil war and fled to Taiwan. Other Kokang residents rallied around the communists and, like many other ethnic armies in northern Burma, received financial and tactical support from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

These days, Beijing no longer openly backs rebel groups in Burma. Still, the Sino-Burmese boundary, some 2,000 km long, remains porous. When fighting occurs in Burma, ethnic refugees — not to mention their military leaders — escape to China’s Yunnan province, which is home to many of the same minorities. People flows are even more significant in the opposite direction. Tens of thousands of Chinese have crossed into Burma to access the nation’s treasure trove of natural resources. In parts of northern Burma, the Chinese currency is accepted and signs in Mandarin hang from storefronts.

The preponderance of Chinese businessmen in northern Burma has bred some ill feeling among locals, even if the Chinese are among the few investors willing to devote money to such an unstable region. One of Burmese President Thein Sein’s earliest — and most popular — directives was to suspend construction of a controversial dam in northern Kachin state that was being built by a Chinese state-owned firm. (Critics contend that construction is, in fact, ongoing.) Earlier this year, dozens of Chinese loggers were detained by Burmese authorities for working illegally in Kachin.

Chinese have long been quietly — and, on occasion, illegally — working in Burma. Last year, in a virtual no-man’s land between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which controls territory on the border with China, a crew of Chinese mine workers operated heavy machinery, tearing up the earth in search of gold. The Chinese foreman of the mine, which is being run by a state-owned enterprise from the Yunnan county of Tengchong, said there was no need for passports or visas or any such conventions of international travel to work the land in Nam San Yang. “We’re only a little bit over the border,” he said, as his men gathered for lunch in a bamboo shack overlooking a patch of earth that was the scene of fierce fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA. Today, the area is nominally controlled by the rebels, while the Burmese front-line positions are staked on a nearby hill. “Myanmar people, Kachin people, who knows, who cares about all those politics,” said a mine worker surnamed Chen, who earns $480 a month. “I’m just here to make money to take home to my family.” Such ambitions know no national boundaries.

TIME China

China Says It Will Decide Who the Dalai Lama Shall Be Reincarnated As

“It’s like Fidel Castro saying, ‘I will select the next Pope'"

The Dalai Lama has been described by Chinese government officials as a “wolf in monk’s robes,” and a “dangerous splittist” intent on cleaving the Chinese nation. On March 13, the Chinese Communist Party–linked Global Times kept up the decades-long attack on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, denouncing him as a “double betrayer” who “keeps spouting nonsense” while devising “a sly trap.”

That supposed trap extends into the hereafter. Tibetan Buddhists believe the current Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation of a holy monk who lived in the 14th century. Now 79, and surely aware that his hopes for an autonomous Tibet are improbable, the Dalai Lama has raised several possibilities of what might happen after he dies. Perhaps he will choose his successor during his lifetime, contrary to the usual tradition of identifying the new Dalai Lama only after the death of the old one. Maybe his soul will transfer to a person outside of Tibet. Or perhaps, he has said most recently, the line of Dalai Lamas will end with him, if that is the wish of the Tibetan people.

No way, says the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party. Earlier this week, on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary session, Zhu Weiqun, head of an influential ethnic-and-religious-affairs committee, insisted that it was the Chinese government responsibility to designate the Dalai Lama’s successor. “The 14th Dalai Lama hasn’t shown a serious or respectful attitude on this issue,” Zhu said. “He sometimes says he will reincarnate as a foreigner in a place where he visits, sometimes to a woman. When someone gives him a bottle of honey, he would happily say he is going to become a bee in the next life.”

The Communist Party’s spiritual prerogative has stoked controversy before. In 1995, the Dalai Lama named a 6-year-old boy living in Tibet as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, widely considered the second-holiest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese government then picked its own child. For 19 years, the Dalai Lama’s choice has not been seen in public, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Despite having fled over the Himalayas to exile in 1959, the Dalai Lama remains popular in his homeland. The Chinese government boasts about Tibet’s economic development, with growth reaching nearly 11% last year. But over the past four years, as government restrictions on Tibetan faith and culture have intensified, more than 130 Tibetans have immolated themselves to protest Chinese rule over the high plateau. In many cases, they have used their final words to express devotion to the Dalai Lama.

Members of the Tibetan exile community have also disparaged the ruling Communist Party’s insistence on dictating the Dalai Lama’s afterlife, which Chinese officials say reflect rules from the Qing Dynasty. “It’s like Fidel Castro saying, ‘I will select the next Pope and all the Catholics should follow,’” Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile, told Reuters earlier this week. “That is ridiculous.”

March is a sensitive month on the Tibetan plateau. The anniversary of a quelled uprising 56 years ago that led to the Dalai Lama’s exile falls on March 10. In mid-March 2008, Tibetan protesters fatally clashed with members of China’s Han ethnic majority and the Hui ethnic minority. Chinese authorities cracked down, leading to more deaths. In 2012, police fired on Tibetan protesters, killing two, according to exile organizations. This March 10, Tibetan exile groups claim an unarmed youth was shot after he ignored a police order to stop his motorbike while on his way to commemorate the 1959 revolt against Chinese rule. Four days earlier, a Tibetan woman from a nomadic family immolated herself on the eastern fringes of the Tibetan highlands.

TIME China

This Is What Communist Propaganda Looks Like These Days

Forget heroic workers trampling on imperialist aggressors. The Chinese Communist Party has made a video that comes across like one long corporate ad

The video features the Great Wall, a waving astronaut, a constellation of synchronized swimmers, a Muslim noodlemaker, a female bartender and, inexplicably, a juggling clown. Its purpose: to show the might and benevolence of Communist Party of China (CPC). Rereleased on Feb. 8 via the social-media accounts of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the video boasts the production values and soaring music of a multinational firm’s big-brand advertising campaign. In less than a day, the 3-min. 7-sec. film, which was also uploaded on Sunday on a popular online portal, had been watched more than 265,000 times.

“The 80 million CPC members, together with the entire population [of China], are working for everyone’s dreams,” declares a sonorous English voiceover. “Our people’s dreams are our goals.”

The film’s narrative arc references Chinese President Xi Jinping’s catchphrase, the Chinese Dream, which tries to fuse national pride with personal aspiration in order to make the Communist Party more relevant to China’s 1.3 billion citizens. Chinese voices articulate their own ambitions in the video. One person pines for bluer skies “and cleaner water.” Another wants “a pretty wife.” A child dreams of “a world free of wars.” (Xi, who took over as head of the Communist Party in late 2012 and has amassed more power in that time than his recent predecessors, appears in three of the film’s shots.)

Along the way, the video issues a torrent of inspirational platitudes. “On the road chasing our dreams, we walk side by side” viewers are told, “transcending differences and shaping the future together.”

The Communist Party’s publicity video, which originally appeared online more than a year ago to lesser fanfare, is credited to a production company called On the Road to Renewal (复兴路上) that previously made an animated film praising the Communist Party’s leaders. The film notes that while China is an “ancient and youthful country, it is growing fast yet with development disparities.” As if reading from a fortune cookie, the English narrator whose accent hovers over the Atlantic, neither British nor American — deems China “full of opportunities, along with untold challenges.” The video ends with a slogan that floats amid flashes of light and galactic gravitas. “The Communist Party of China,” it reads, “is with you along the way.”

Reaction from Chinese commenting online on Sunday was mixed, with supportive statements doing battle with ridicule. Pang Yanzhuo, whose verified Weibo account lists him as an independent photographer, struck a dismissive tone. “I’m an ordinary Chinese, not a party member,” he wrote. “The video mentioned 1.3 billion Chinese several times. What does that mean? It has nothing to do with me. Meanwhile, among the party members I know, none of them joined the party because they believe in its ideology. They merely want to get promotions or become rich. Is there anyone who really joined the party simply because of a devotion of spirit? If so, I want to know you.”

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

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