Myanmar‘s junta has asked China for help implementing a new electronic identification system, state media reported Wednesday, for a census that critics say will be used to increase surveillance of its opponents.
The military has justified its 2021 coup with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in 2020 elections won resoundingly by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
China — a major ally and arms supplier for the junta — operates a sprawling nationwide surveillance network that collects huge amounts of data from its citizens, ostensibly for security purposes.
Myanmar’s military leaders plan to roll out an electronic ID system that will collect “biographic data and the biometric data of citizens aged 10 years and above,” state media reported.
The junta’s minister for immigration and the head of its electronic registration department visited China earlier this week, according to the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The minister briefed Chinese officials on a trial census scheduled for next month, ahead of a national count due next year, and asked for “China’s cooperation in implementing the eID (electronic identification) system,” the newspaper reported.
The delegation also visited the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing where “the department’s operations, including security equipment production and national identity card issuance, were explained,” the Global New Light said.
Critics say the junta will use the census to step up monitoring of opponents of its coup, including thousands of civil servants, doctors and teachers who have not returned to work in protest.
More than 1.6 million people are also currently displaced by the violence that has riven the country since the coup, according to the United Nations.
The junta has said a national census must be completed before it can hold fresh elections, which it has hinted may come in 2025.
Russia has said it backs the generals’ plan for polls and earlier this month its election commission signed a memorandum on “cooperation in election activities” with Myanmar.
Myanmar remains mired in almost daily bomb blasts and fighting, with thousands of civilians caught up in the violence.