Burma and China to Build on Strategic Military Relations

By Lin Thant 25 July 2013

Burma and China will likely enhance military ties, according to state media reports.

Burma’s President Thein Sein met on Tuesday with Gen Fan Changlong, deputy chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC), at his residence in Naypyidaw, according to a report by the state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) network. Their conversation included a discussion about enhancing relations between the two countries’ armed forces and maintaining positive relations between governments, MRTV said.

The Burmese president also told the Chinese military leader that his administration would continue to promote warming relations with other countries in the region and in the West, the broadcaster added.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, also met with the CMC deputy chairman on Tuesday morning, prior to his meeting with the president, according to state-run newspapers.

The newspapers said Min Aung Hlaing told Fan Changlong that he supported the “One China” policy and that the Burmese army would maintain close relations with China for regional security and border stability. He reportedly added that the Burmese army would cooperate with the Chinese military to eliminate the narcotics trade.

Fan Changlong said China’s government was paying attention to Burma’s development and both armies would cooperate on proposed matters, according to the newspaper reports.

Meanwhile, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the CMC deputy chairman’s visit was part of an official trip to three countries, also including Thailand and Kazakhstan, with the aim of building strategic relations between the respective armies to maintain regional peace and stability.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burma military and political watcher on the Burma-China border, told The Irrawaddy that he believed Fan Changlong also represented the Chinese Communist Party during his trip to Burma. He said Beijing’s concerns over Burma’s growing military ties with the United States and the United Kingdom could have motivated the visit.

“China is very much concerned about relations between the Burmese army and major international countries,” he said. “They [the Chinese] are concerned about building up relations among those armies in the future. I also believe that on this trip, the CMC vice chairman will definitely discuss issues related to the Burma-China border-based armed ethnic United Wa State Army [UWSA].”

He added that after the 1988 pro-democracy protests in Burma, military relations with China increased due to arms embargoes and other sanctions imposed on the Burmese military regime by Western countries. Burma has purchased military weapons including jet fighters and tanks from China, he said, but has never properly learned military tactics from the East Asian giant.

The European Union continues to restrict arms sales to Burma, but Beijing may be concerned about the United Kingdom’s plans to provide military training early next year to about 30 Burmese officers, with an aim to upgrade the Burmese army to meet international standards. The United Kingdom also plans to reappoint a military attaché in Burma.

Aung Lin Htut, a former major from Burma’s military intelligence unit who now lives in the United States under political asylum, told The Irrawaddy that the British resumption of military relations with Burma also reflected US intentions, as the two Western powers are allies.

The United States and other Western countries have resumed long deadlocked relations with Burma in recognition of political and economic reforms under Thein Sein, who came to power in 2011.

In October 2012, a delegation of senior US military officials arrived in Burma for meetings with their Burmese counterparts. Observers from Burma’s armed forces also joined the US-led military exercises in Thailand known as the Cobra Gold for the first time earlier this year.