China Grows Wary as Kachin Conflict Intensifies

By Echo Hui 17 January 2013

Chinese officials in Yunnan Province are watching warily as the conflict in neighboring Kachin State, which has intensified in recent weeks in areas near the Sino-Burmese border, continues to threaten to unleash a fresh influx of refugees from Burma.

So far, the situation appears to be under control. In Nabang, a city not far from the border, an official told The Irrawaddy that the number of refugees temporarily sheltering there is “less than a few thousand,” while other sources quoted by Chinese state media said that newcomers are still arriving “only in small groups.”

Many of those who have fled to Nabang are relatives of ethnic Kachins who hold Chinese nationality. The Kachin, known as Jingpo in China, are one of 56 recognized ethnic groups in the country.

While the situation remains relatively stable, however, police in Yinjiang, opposite the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) stronghold of Laiza, confirmed media reports that both the Chinese and Burmese governments have “increased their power” along the border to prevent large numbers of refugees from entering China.

According to the official in Nabang, no further measures are being taken at the moment to deal with the situation.

The war in Kachin State has also attracted the attention of officials in Beijing. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said that “China follows closely the development of the situation” in Kachin State, and hopes Naypyidaw will “ease the tension through peace negotiations.”

The spokesperson declined, however, to confirm reports that China has sent troops the border to protect the lives and property of those living in the area.

On Wednesday, China’s government-run Global Times newspaper reported that additional checkpoints had been set up near the border, while an official was quoted as saying that an increase in troop activity in the area was part of a regular border drill, and not a response to the Kachin fighting.

According to a reporter for a local newspaper, few military vehicles have been seen on the road from Nabang to the border in recent days.

“The main force is a small number of special police who have been patrolling the area over the past 24 hours,” said the reporter.