Kachin Conflict a Conundrum for China

President Thein Sein met with Chinese special envoy Fu Ying in Rangoon on Saturday to discuss the Kachin conflict. (Photo: The President’s Office website)

President Thein Sein met with Chinese special envoy Fu Ying in Rangoon on Saturday to discuss the Kachin conflict. (Photo: The President’s Office website)

HONG KONG—Burma’s President Thein Sein met with Chinese special envoy Fu Ying and a high-ranking Chinese military delegation in Rangoon on Saturday to discuss the ongoing Kachin conflict, which is raging near China’s southwestern border.

The outcome of the talks remain unclear as Chinese authorities have not spelled out their strategy for addressing the ethnic conflict. But there are signs that China is growing increasingly concerned over the unrest, which could spill over into its territory.

Following Saturday’s meeting, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry released a statement saying that Thein Sein and Fu Ying had “exchanged views on deepening the Sino-Burmese strategic partnership and have agreed to protect peace and stability in the Sino-Burmese border areas.”

“We hope to maintain peace in the border areas, so that the border population can go about their ordinary lives,” Fu told Chinese Central Television. “Both sides agree on this point.”

Thein Sein’s office provided few details on the meeting and only mentioned that the president and Chinese officials discussed “matters related to amity and cooperation between the two countries, assistance to Myanmar and border area stability.”

A ceasefire between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down in 2011 and fighting escalated last month, when the Burmese army began launching airstrikes on rebel positions using helicopter gunships and jet fighters.

The battles have focused on the mountains around Laiza, a town of about 20,000 residents where another 15,000 displaced villagers are seeking refuge. Kachin rebels have their headquarters in Laiza, which is located on the Burma-China border.

On Dec. 30 and Jan. 17, Burmese artillery shells landed on Chinese soil, prompting an irritated response by China’s foreign ministry, which asked for an “immediate ceasefire” on Jan. 18.

Although the shells caused no damage, Chinese security forces were sent to increase their patrols and surveillance along the border, according to local Chinese reports.

Qi Jianguo, the new Deputy Chief of Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, also met with Thein Sein in Rangoon as part of bilateral strategic security consultations between the two countries’ armed forces.

Following the meeting, he addressed the conflict, telling Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency that he hoped the Burmese government would “adopt effective measures to achieve stability” in Kachin state. But he added that, “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar.”

One particular concern for Chinese authorities has been the potential influx of thousands of Kachin refugees, which could occur if the Burmese army captures Laiza town.

In early January, local Chinese authorities reportedly started preparing four refugee shelters in Nabang town, which is separated from Laiza only by a small river that demarcates the border.

A local medical official told China News Service on Sunday that authorities in Yunnan Province’s Yinjiang County set aside 21 medical staff, five ambulances, tents, food and cooking oil to provide assistance for any potential Kachin refugees.

Such preparations are reminiscent of a situation in 2008, when the Burmese military attacked another ethnic group in Burma, the Kokang, and some 30,000 Kokang refugees from northern Shan State fled across the border into China.

Chinese economic interests are also put at risk by the Kachin fighting, as it has several large hydropower projects in the state, while a Chinese an important gas and oil pipeline runs from Burma’s western coast to China, passing just south of the war zone.

The unrest along its southwestern border presents a challenge to China’s foreign policy and Chinese authorities still seem to be in the process of formulating a coherent response. Some Chinese media have recently begun to address this issue.

“How our government should react is a question worth considering, this is also a new kind of test of what role China should play in the world,” Chinese right-wing daily Global Times said in an article on Friday.

The newspaper said China should not become directly involved in the conflict, as it could strain the country’s relations with Burma and put at risk Chinese investments. It warned against siding with the Kachin movement, which gets support from Chinese ethnic Kachin, who are called Jingpo in China and number about 132,000.

However, an opinion survey on the Global Times’ website on Saturday indicated that 53 percent of its readers think that “China should become involved in the ethnic conflict in northern Burma”. Another 63 percent said they believed that the conflict was affecting bilateral relations between Burma and China. The survey has since been removed from the site.

Zhang Huagang, a scholar at Yunnan University in Kunming, said in a reaction that China’s options in dealing with the Kachin conflict were limited. “The visit by Fu Ying and the high-level talks will not be able to change the situation, the fact is that the Burmese army is besieging the KIA,” he said.

Zhang Huagang said China also had to contend with other foreign powers in dealing with the conflict. “The question of security at the Sino-Burmese border areas is no longer solely an issue in Sino-Burmese relations. The West, led by the United States, now also has stakes in it,” he added.

In other areas along Burma’s long border with China meanwhile, ethnic groups are in a precarious ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government, which could be destabilized by the Kachin conflict.

The local administrations of Burma’s Special Regions II, III, IV in Shan State, all bordering China, recently issued a statement, warning that the Burmese offensive against the Kachin could cause a return to more conflict in the border areas.

Among the ethnic Wa, who control Special Region II with their powerful United Wa State Army, concerns over the Kachin conflict are growing, as they fear that the Burmese army will come after their territory next.

These concerns have not gone unnoticed in China. “Once the Burmese control the Kachin, the next target will be the Wa,” a local Wa source told Chinese Shenzhen TV on Sept. 9.

10 Responses to Kachin Conflict a Conundrum for China

  1. The Chinese are too entangled in all this. The KIA has been an obstacle in their control of Myitsone and other business ventures where two (the Burmese kleptocracy and themselves) is a company but three is a crowd. Splitting the profits three ways is not a very attractive idea. The Wa, unlike the weaker Kokang albeit Han Chinese themselves, can be a more effective pawn in the game. They say the Wa are good at dying during the seventies and eighties under the CPB fighting the military dictatorship.

  2. Than shwe, ming aung laing and thein sein are playing the game with China and USA. Let see who is the loser and who is the winner. Whatever , whenever and however, all ethnics should be in the unity as it might be their last chance to fight for all ethnic rights and autonomy from bama military thugs. The next target from bama military thugs is Wa army. Let see who will confidently invest in Burma.

  3. The Chinese are applying “pressure”. The Chinese PLA general (vice-commander-in-chief) talked to Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing.
    See: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/757143.shtml
    The greedy Chinese want everything: Myitsone dam, copper from Letpadaung, jade from Phakant, the gas/oil pipeline, railway line from Kunming to Kyaukphyu right through the heart of Burma (so that the PLA can move in quickly!), Shwe gas, naval base at Kyaukphyu, real estate in Mandalay, Rangoon, Lashio, etc. etc. so they are pressuring the “Tatmadaw”. I don’t think China really cares about ethnic minority groups. Just look at what’s happening to the Tibetans and the Uyghurs (Jingphaws are small fry compared to these bigger ethnic groups in China)

  4. Let’s look the communist China’s way of installing peace in Tibet. Silencing the Tibetans is the Chinese way. It will not work in Burma because Kachins are not the only ethnics who ask for greater liberalization politically. So, this war can ignite the whole Union like wildfire in summer time. China always takes advantage of our poverty. This time, we need to open our eyes wide to see what China-Burma secret talk on the Kachin War. As Burmese junta keeps lying and cheating, all ethnics(UNFC members) need to be ready to join the war. Agreement signed with the junta may never bear fruits. I can say it. Pang Long Agreement was betrayed and how long we have been demanding to re-institute the Pang Long Treaty for six decades, do the Burmese juntas care? Thein Sein promised us with democracy but is he serious to bring democracy in the Union of Burma? No. If he were serious, why should he do this stupid war on the Kachins who just ask genuine democracy? Every movement or action the government is taking, we see no democratic change. It just try to satisfy with economic development. It just tries to copy from China and Vietnam. We did not start fighting for economy but democracy. Liberalizing just economy is no way near to meet our demand. Without dragging its feet, Burmese junta needs to push for democracy. So, political Talk and Dialogue is urgently needed to avoid larger war.

  5. China is asking US to get involve now Eh? Is it officially cold war now? Is Burma is split up by 2 super power countries interests? Is Burma is new North and South Korea? It is very dangerous now. It looks like the situation is worse than I thought. Ethnic people must stand together for their common interest of Federal Union. If you guys do not stand together now, it will be the end of it. Everyone of Ethnic people are doom. After Kachin, I believe it will be Karanny or Karen. Wa and Kokang will be last if I am not wrong. Burmese military will not go head on with the strongest one first. It will break piece by piece of the ethnic people until every one of us bow under these brutal tyrants. Wake up Ethnic people, stand up for each other. Burmese people, stand up for injustice and fight for each other rights. If you love peace, it is your only chance, you can’t let US and China play their game. It is time you all have to change your country and to create peace. Where tyranny is rule, you have to fight for peace.

  6. Chinese officials visited Burma to discuss the Kachin conflict that is raging near its border. The situation concerns China, but it lacks a clear response because she is a covert part and parcel of the conflict: China you can’t have your cake and eat it too! Get on the potty or get off the potty, but don’t trot around looking constipated.

  7. China has begun blocking its border against the Kachin refugees in Nabang. Even though they have camps prepared, China will refuse them if they don’t have the proper papers which are impossible for them to attain. No one should be surprised by the carnage of innocent men, women and children if Laiza falls.

  8. It is very sad, unfortunate and quite preposterous and rediculous that the expatriate Burmese community expects with misplaced high hopes that the WEST is truly interested in helping democracy, ethnic rights, human rights and development in general of the country. They are not. Their only interest is to just give “lip-service” to the all the above. Deal with whoever is in the seat of power and use that for their larger strategic goal of “stemming the growing Chinese economic and military power in all of Asia”. The American and the Europeans are in no position to get involved in the internal affairs of Myanmar as they themselves are “deep in debt”, especially the U.S. to China and the rest of Europe on the verge of Bankruptcy.

    It is therefore in the critical interest of our ethnic communities of Myanmar to accept the reality that hoping and expecting help from the WEST is wishful thinking and start finding a way to resolve the conflict on your own with the government that has offered to do so.

    Naphetchun MaungSein

    California USA

    • Precisely. Big business is what they truly represent. The rest is window dressing. Everyone has an agenda of their own. The Burmese nation must strive to work out things among themselves, and not get caught up in superpower agendas. There is a need to find some common ground that all can start to build on. Trust is not the real issue since no one trusts anyone else completely. But in the end if the generals are not looking for a political settlement it’s going to be an awful waste of time for the rest, and only an elaborate window dressing got up by the ruling elite to pursue their own sell serving agenda.

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