Saturday, August 29, 2009

Impotent China

The Irrawaddy Editorial

The increased tension and fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic armies along the Sino-Burmese border has sent thousands of refugees fleeing to China. This has prompted Chinese foreign ministry officials to express hope that Burma can “properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability of its bordering area with China.”

Authorities in the southeastern Chinese province of Yunnan say some 10,000 people have already fled across the border from Burma in recent days due to the recent clashes. Most are Burmese-born Chinese and Chinese nationals living along the border.

Over the past few months, Beijing has been engaging in quiet diplomacy with Naypyidaw to urge the Burmese junta to solve the ethnic issue along the border in a peaceful way. When Gen Maung Aye visited Beijing in June, Chinese leaders again requested him not to use force against ethnic ceasefire groups and to maintain stability there.

Burmese leaders are also reportedly unhappy, as Chinese continue to support ethnic groups along the border. Many Burmese military leaders harbor anti-China sentiments, as China has in the past heavily backed ethnic armies and the now defunct Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The Wa and Chinese from the Kokang region were former members of the CPB.

However, it seems the Burmese leaders did not listen to China’s advice. Instead, the regime went ahead with plans to press the ethnic groups near the border to disarm and form border guard forces. The regime aims to complete this transformation before elections are held next year.

The current conflict has been 20 years in the making. It is a direct result of the regime’s refusal to grant the ethnic ceasefire groups the self-determination they seek within the framework of a federal union.

The greatest irony of this situation is that China, a major arms supplier and staunch ally of the repressive regime for the past two decades, has proven to be impotent in its efforts to persuade the junta leaders to find a political solution to this issue.

China has consistently backed the regime at the UN Security Council, exercising its veto power to block resolutions condemning the regime for its brutal repression of dissent, arguing that these actions do not represent a threat to international security.

In early August, Chinese foreign ministry officials even defended the regime’s decision to sentence detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months under house arrest, saying that the international community must respect Burma’s judicial sovereignty.

After decades of defending the junta, China’s leaders are learning the hard way that the Burmese junta’s sole concern is its own self-preservation. It cares as little about what Beijing wants as it does about the democratic aspirations of Burma’s people.

Like it or not, Beijing’s approach to Burma—and its status as an emerging superpower—is being put to the test. Unless it can find a way to rein in the generals, China risks not only instability along its border with Burma, but also appearing to be powerless to defend its own interests.

READ MORE---> Impotent China...

Fighting Stops as Kokang Surrender Arms to Chinese

The Irrawaddy News

Fighting near the Sino-Burmese border came to an abrupt halt today after about 700 Kokang troops handed over their weapons to Chinese officials following days of clashes that sent thousands fleeing across the border.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst who is close to the Kokang, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that at least 700 soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), an ethnic-Kokang militia, crossed the border into China today and surrendered their arms to local officials.

Kokang troops at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the MNDAA.
He added that troops from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a much larger force allied to the Kokang, have been repositioned to Wa-controlled territory.

The Irrawaddy was unable to verify this information with other independent sources.

The sudden end to the fighting came a day after Kokang and UWSA troops ambushed a convoy of Burmese army vehicles in Kokang territory. According to unconfirmed reports, more than a dozen Burmese soldiers were killed in the attack.

On Thursday, a 20-year ceasefire between the Burmese army and the armed ethnic groups broke down after government forces moved to occupy Kokang territory. Since then, the Burmese army has sent reinforcements into the area from Light Infantry Divisions 33 and 99.

The crisis began on Monday, when tens of thousands of refugees, including Chinese businessmen, started flooding across the border into China from Laogai, a town in Kokang territory. Cross-border trade in Laogai has since come to a standstill and trading at other border checkpoints has decreased, say sources in the area.

The rapidly deteriorating situation caused consternation in Beijing, which has long had close relations with both sides in the conflict. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China hoped the Burmese junta would deal with the situation properly and ensure stability along the border and protect Chinese citizens in Burma.

“China is following the situation closely and has expressed concern to Myanmar [Burma],” said Jiang.

Some observers said that junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s decision to send troops into Kokang territory despite China’s concerns showed his determination to demonstrate that he will not be constrained by Beijing.

“The Burmese junta doesn’t care what anybody thinks, so I don’t think the generals are thinking about China’s response,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China.

But while Naypyidaw showed little concern about the consequences of renewed fighting in the area, Beijing couldn’t ignore the worsening situation, as Chinese living near the border expressed outrage at the Burmese military’s actions.

“I feel upset with the Burmese government. The Kokang people have Chinese blood. And in China, many people are so angry that they are urging the Chinese government to send troops to help the Kokang,” said a Chinese journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although Beijing appears to have defused the potentially explosive situation for the time being, it remains to be seen if fighting will resume between the Burmese and the Wa, who command a much larger military force than the Kokang.

The current conflict stems from the refusal of ethnic ceasefire groups, including Kokang, Wa, Kachin and Shan militias, to transform themselves into border security forces under Burmese military command.

The 20,000-strong UWSA presents the greatest obstacle to Burmese ambitions to pacify the country’s borders after six decades of civil conflict. Although they were among the first ethnic groups to sign a ceasefire agreement with the current regime in 1989, they have also been the most resistant to any effort to weaken their hold over their territory.

In Rangoon, news of the clashes in the country’s north has revived memories of the insurgencies that wracked the region for decades.

“People here are talking about it at teashops. They are saying that this is the return of civil war,” said an editor of a private weekly journal in Rangoon.

Meanwhile, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), called for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in northern Burma.

“We want the junta to resolve the issue in a peaceful way with ethnic groups,” NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The cause of the conflict is the Burmese regime’s failure to resolve problems in the country politically.”

READ MORE---> Fighting Stops as Kokang Surrender Arms to Chinese...

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