UWSA Talks Business, Drugs Cooperation with China

By Patrick Boehler 4 December 2012

Ahead of talks between the Burmese government’s peace team and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Pangkham, Shan State, on Monday, the ethnic armed militia received a local Burmese military commander and a Chinese delegation intent on fostering new ties.

Brig-Gen Aung Soe, commander of the Burmese armed forces Northeastern Region Command, paid his first courtesy call to the UWSA on Nov. 16. He held talks with Vice-Chairman Xiao Mingliang at the rebels’ headquarters in Pangkham and visited a facility of the Hongbang Company, a UWSA enterprise formerly linked to the drugs trade and money laundering.

In December 2005, the UWSA—dubbed “the largest drug trafficking organization in Southeast Asia” by the US Department of Justice—told diplomats that they had “put narcotics behind us,” according to a US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks. Twenty-one of its leaders had been charged in the US with aiding the trade of heroin and methamphetamines to North America, partly through Hongbang.

Xiao told diplomats that the UWSA had closer ties to China than Burma. “We still feel distant [from Rangoon] in our hearts,” he was quoted in the cable. The UWSA leadership is ethnic Chinese and Chairman Bao Youxiang is understood to have spent extensive periods in China for treatment of a neurological infection.

In the early hours on Thursday, the Wa delegation led by Xiao met with representatives of the Chinese Pu’er prefectural government which borders the USWA-controlled 2nd Special Administrative Region in Shan State. Members of the Chinese delegation included the heads of the Pu’er visa office as well as the anti-terrorism, drug-fighting and border guard units.

The UWSA shares a 133 km (82 miles) frontier with China, according to the Yunnan Daily. As of November, Chinese investors were cultivating 570 square kilometers (220 square miles) of land in UWSA-territory, the provincial government mouthpiece reported, calling the territory an “important gateway” for Chinese trade with Southeast Asia.

Early in November, Menglian Wa autonomous county bordering the Wa-controlled territory in Burma was designated a Border Cooperation Zone kicking off 1.95 billion yuan (US $310 million) in infrastructure projects, according to the Yunnan Daily.

Xiao told his Chinese counterparts that the UWSA is willing to continue extraditing fugitive Chinese criminals to China and combating the drugs trade. Xiao asked for a relaxation of the handling of border crossings, in particular for teachers, students and for travel for medical treatment.

He also asked for an easing of export restrictions of local rubber, mining products, tea and timber to China, according to a transcript, adding that the UWSA hoped that the Chinese side was willing to increase investments in Wa-controlled territory.

Yang Yalin, deputy head of the Pu’er Public Security Department, said he wished to increase cooperation in drugs and weapons smuggling into China, as settled in an agreement from 2010. Chinese authorities did not report the meeting.

In June, the Wa Supreme Court chief Li Zhaoguo said at a rally in Pangkham that the UWSA had arrested 647 men and 151 women on drug-related charges, most of whom were addicts. Fifty drug users were repatriated to China. Seven were sent to China upon Chinese request, whereas three people were extradited from China to Wa territory. Wa forces confiscated 295 kg of methamphetamines and 35 kg of heroin among other drugs over the year.