Myan­mar clash a threat to lives and trade

So all par­ties in­volved should get back to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble as soon as pos­si­ble ...

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

An al­liance of some ethnic groups in the border area of north­ern Myan­mar’s Shan state launched a se­ries of sur­prise at­tacks onMyan­mar mil­i­tary out­posts and po­lice sta­tions on Sun­day morn­ing. The clash be­tween the armed at­tack­ers and se­cu­rity per­son­nel has killed at least eight peo­ple and in­jured 29— nine po­lice­men, two cus­toms of­fi­cers and 18 civil­ians.

Lodg­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions with Myan­mar af­ter a Chi­nese na­tional was hit by a stray bul­let, China has urged all par­ties in the con­flict to ex­er­cise re­straint to pre­vent the sit­u­a­tion from es­ca­lat­ing fur­ther.

Judg­ing by their com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties and weapons in their posses­sion, nei­ther the gov­ern­ment troops nor the ethnic armies seem ca­pa­ble of win­ning this con­flict. They are more likely to be locked in a long-drawn con­fronta­tion. The newround of in­tense fight­ing points to a sore point in­Myan­mar’s po­lit­i­cal dilemma— ethnic prob­lems are far from be­ing set­tled even af­ter Aung San Su­uKyi’s party as­sumed the high­est of­fice.

For years, theMyan­mar gov­ern­ment has sought to im­pose ef­fec­tive con­trol on its re­sourcerich north­ern area, where lo­cal ethnic forces have also main­tained an en­dur­ing pres­ence. Fear­ing their in­ter­ests would be in­fringed upon if they give up con­trol over their ter­ri­to­ries, the ethnic forces in­clud­ing the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army, Ta’angNa­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army and Kokang’sMyan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army have lit­tle faith in the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Racial hos­til­ity passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, widen­ing eco­nomic gap, and cul­tural iso­la­tion, too, have fu­eled the lo­cal armed groups’ anti-gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ment. And the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment has failed to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate and in­ter­act with the mi­nor­ity forces, some of which are non-sig­na­to­ries to the na­tion­wide ac­cord to end ethnic and other con­flicts. That, to a point, ex­plains why both sides have of­ten mis­read each other’s in­ten­tions.

The con­stant clashes in north­ernMyan­mar also sug­gest that some ethnic armed groups still de­pend on the use of mil­i­tary tac­tics and sep­a­ratism to de­fend their eco­nomic gains and po­lit­i­cal rights. The lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion has only wors­ened fol­low­ing the lat­est at­tacks, which the lo­cal forces said were launched to re­sist the gov­ern­ment’s re­cent mil­i­tary op­pres­sion in the af­fected ar­eas.

In fact, both sides seem to wrongly as­sume that vic­to­ries in armed con­flicts will give them an ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion in peace­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions. That has pushed a con­struc­tive con­sen­sus fur­ther off the ta­ble, adding more fuel to the long­stand­ing hos­til­ity.

As a re­sult, the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, which ini­tially made good progress un­der the new­gov­ern­ment, has come to a halt with an­other round of fin­ger-point­ing un­der way. Be­sides, the con­flicts have almost al­ways spilled over into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like China. Not only are Chi­nese na­tion­als’ se­cu­rity and as­sets un­der threat, but also cross-border trade ex­changes face trou­ble. As of now, flee­ingMyan­mar peo­ple who have crossed the border and sought asy­lum in China have been taken care of, but China could be over­bur­dened if they keep com­ing in.

As a key tran­sit point for China-Myan­mar com­mod­ity ex­changes, the border trade zone in the af­fect­edMuse town­ship is ex­pected to play a big­ger role in China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road). Home to at least 70 per­cent ofMyan­mar’s border trade, the town­ship’s trade vol­ume re­port­edly was about $5.4 bil­lion last year, a four­fold in­crease since 2011.

En­dorsed by the China Na­tional Petroleum Corp, a crude oil pipe­line link­ing the coun­try’s south­west andMyan­mar’s coastal city of Kyaukpyu is al­ready in oper­a­tion. These projects can be eas­ily ex­posed to the volatile sit­u­a­tion in north­ernMyan­mar. So all par­ties in­volved should get back to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble as soon as pos­si­ble and avoid caus­ing un­nec­es­sary dam­age toMyan­mar and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. The au­thor is a re­searcher at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sci­ences.

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