The high stakes and lofty goals of the Panglong Conference
THE five-day Panglong Conference kicks off tomorrow in Nay Pyi Taw. The event is the National League for Democracy’s inaugural bid at national reconciliation – a point it has called a priority since taking office in April – and both hopes and tensions are running high in the lead-up.
The basics The conference will be attended by around 1800 invitees, including ethnic armed groups, political parties, international diplomats, donors to the peace process and international organisations.
Lending international clout to the event, UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon has confirmed he will attend the first day of the conference.
In a departure from the peace process of the previous administration, non-signatories to last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement have also been invited to the conference. The NLD administration has repeatedly stressed that it places importance on an all-inclusive approach. However, it appears likely that the “Northern Alliance” – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) – will be absent from the event following objections to pre-conditions laid out for their participation, including the demand that they “surrender their stance of armed struggle”.
Chinese-Myanmar relationships and the peace process The peace process has served as a hotbed for the competing Chinese and American spheres of influence in Myanmar.
The Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, claimed on August 23 that civil society groups funded Western countries were inciting anti-Chinese attitudes in Myanmar.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed group and one which maintains close ties with China, last year vowed it would not participate in the ceasefire agreement if the US, Japan and Europe continue to take part in allegedly fuelling the conflicts in northern Myanmar.
Just before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s five-day trip to China earlier this month, officials of both the UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), also known as the Mongla, said they have agreed to attend the 21st-century Panglong Conference.
And during the state counsellor’s visit, Chinese leaders pledged support for Myanmar’s national reconciliation.
A good beginning makes a good ending Securing internal peace, establishing a federal democratic Union and generating a constitution guaranteeing equal ethnic rights are just some of the high hopes underpinning the upcoming peace talks.
However, political analysts point out that a conference of 1800 people is unlikely to conclude with any pivotal decisions.
Analyst U Than Naing Soe said that it is important for Tatmadaw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to use the conference to build trust and to lay the groundwork of a good beginning in order to secure positive results for future negotiations.
Political discussions will not even be on the table at the conference, since the political dialogue framework has yet to be finalised.
Moreover, if political dialogue starts without all ethnic armed groups signing the NCA, it could create the impression that non-signatories are being given priority, according to some of the peace delegates.
Since U Thein Sein’s government laid down the guideline that ethnic armed groups can attend the political dialogues only after signing the NCA, it is appears likely that further signings will follow the finalisation of the framework. The political dialogues are scheduled to be held once every six months.
Although improbable that the 21stcentury Panglong Conference will result in tangible outcomes on the scale of the 1947 iteration, hopes are still high that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can reignite the long journey toward ending decades of armed conflict.
– Translation by Thiri Min Htun