HONG KONG — China denied delivering arms to ethnic militias in Burma on Sunday, rejecting allegations that Burma’s largest trading partner was militarily supporting the country’s largest militia, the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
“Such allegations, however, were ill-founded and misguided,” a press release by the Chinese embassy in Rangoon said on Sunday, effectively denying that China was hedging its bets and supplying military equipment not only to the Burmese armed forces, but also to ethnic militias on China’s border in Shan and Kachin State.
The release referred to a report by Jane’s Intelligence Review from December, according to which the UWSA received Chinese-made PTL02 Wheeled Tank Destroyers in the middle of last year. The Jane’s report stated that the arms were acquired on the “gray” arms market in China, which allowed for “plausible deniability.”
“The Chinese Government holds a clear and consistent policy of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Burma, the embassy statement said.
The reports “may cause confusion and misperception among the Myanmar public and a wider audience,” the statement concluded, hinting at China’s blemished image among the general public. The alleged arms transfer was first made known to a wider audience by the report of the Democratic Voice of Burma last week.
Controversial investments by Chinese state-owned companies, such as the Myitsone Dam, the Monywa copper mine and the Sino-Burmese oil and gas pipelines, have led to protests at the Rangoon embassy compound and also caused wider friction between the two countries.
The controversy comes at a time when the Burmese army is closing in on Laiza, the last stronghold of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the Sino-Burmese border, using armaments in part of Chinese origin. The UWSA issued a statement in the beginning of the year condemning the offensive and warning that it could lead to a return to civil war in the rest of the ethnic-minority-dominated areas.
The militia, under the command of the ailing ethnic Chinese Bao Youxiang, staged its largest military exercise yet earlier in January. Several people close to the UWSA have expressed concern over the last month that if the KIA were to fall, the Burmese government army’s next target would be the Wa.
On Friday, a spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied allegations that China was providing arms to the KIA after a regular press briefing, according to the transcript the ministry released on Saturday.
“The Chinese side has consistently played a positive, constructive role in the conflict in northern Burma by mediating and facilitating talks,” spokesman Hong Lei said.
China has hosted several rounds of talks between the KIA and the Burmese government at its major border hub Ruili in Yunnan Province. China has also provided shelter for some refugees, medical treatment to some soldiers and recently electricity to some villages cut off by the fighting.
While China maintains close links to the KIA leadership, arms transfers from China to the KIA ceased at the end of the 1990s, a KIA officer told The Irrawaddy last year. China also strictly controls exports to KIA-controlled territory.
On Jan. 18, President Thein Sein met with Chinese special envoy Fu Ying and a high-ranking Chinese military delegation in Rangoon to discuss the conflict, but both sides have so far failed to provide a road map for a lasting solution.