China has warned Northern Alliance members with armed forces based near the Chinese border in northern Shan State not to cooperate with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), according to border sources.
The Northern Alliance is a block of seven armed ethnic groups. It is also known as the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC).
“ARSA has networked with Uighur Muslim terrorists from [China’s] Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. So, China issued a warning to the Northern Alliance not to network or cooperate with ARSA,” said a leader of an ethnic armed group who joined a three-day meeting in Panghsang from March 26-28.
ARSA attacked government police bases and Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) posts in Maungdaw, Rakhine State, in August last year, prompting a Tatmadaw clearance operation that caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee the region. The Tatmadaw and the government consider ARSA to be a terrorist organization.
In issuing the warning, China may be sending a message to the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization and member of the Northern Alliance based on the Chinese border, according to some ethnic armed leaders, though China mentioned only the Northern Alliance in general, and did not single out the AA.
The AA is an ethnic armed group with its origins in Arakan, but based in the Laiza and Kokang areas along the Chinese border. Its forces occasionally return to bases in Arakan to engage in clashes with the Tatmadaw.
Some observers said China’s concerns about cooperation between the AA and ARSA are minimal. China has historically worried about Western influence in conflicts in Arakan, particularly fearing its influence on AA leaders who have some military power in the region, according to some peace-process observers.
The ethnic Arakan and Rohingya Muslim populations do not support each other—in fact they have a longstanding communal conflict. Nonetheless, China worries about the potential for AA to network with ARSA, according to sources close to some ethnic armed leaders.
The FPNCC did not mention any warning to the Northern Alliance from China in its most recent statement, which focused on the peace process and the Panglong Peace conference, and condemned the Tatmadaw’s attacks on Kachin, Palaung, Kokang, and Arakan forces.
In the statement, the FPNCC said that if the government invited it to join the next session of the Panglong Peace conference, it would accept, on the condition that China facilitated travel to and from the conference, and guaranteed its security.
Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Hong Liang met with Tatmadaw commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on March 29, one day after the Panghsang meeting, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense. The two discussed the peace process and plans for resettling Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine. They also talked about how the Myanmar and Bangladesh armed forces plan to prevent further attacks by ARSA.
The Tatmadaw will continue its efforts to achieve a lasting peace with the help of bilateral cooperation between the armed forces of Myanmar and China, according to the statement.