Tat­madaw chief in China amid UWSA ten­sions

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

The commander-in-chief is vis­it­ing Bei­jing at the in­vi­ta­tion of the chief of joint staff for the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, Gen­eral Fang Fenghui, at a time when mil­i­tary ten­sions be­tween the Wa and the Tat­madaw are sim­mer­ing.

SE­NIOR Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myan­mar’s De­fence Ser­vices, dis­cussed the coun­try’s cur­rent peace process at a meet­ing with the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry’s spe­cial en­voy on Asian af­fairs, Sun Guo Xiang, yes­ter­day in Bei­jing.

The Tat­madaw leader is on a visit to China at the in­vi­ta­tion of the chief of joint staff for the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, Gen­eral Fang Fenghui. The visit will wrap up to­mor­row.

Dur­ing his meet­ing with Mr Sun, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing dis­cussed on the cur­rent dynamics of the peace process, which is un­der­girded by a na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment (NCA) signed by the gov­ern­ment, the Tat­madaw and eight non-state armed groups in Oc­to­ber 2015, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment posted on the se­nior gen­eral’s Face­book page.

A de­tailed ac­count of the con­tent of their dis­cus­sion was not dis­closed, how­ever.

As China’s spe­cial en­voy for Asian af­fairs, Mr Sun has been present as an ob­server to ma­jor peace milestones in Myan­mar, in­clud­ing the NCA sign­ing cer­e­mony and an eth­nic sum­mit ear­lier this year in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, which bor­ders China.

Dur­ing her visit to China in Au­gust, State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called on the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to help en­sure border sta­bil­ity. Shortly af­ter that visit, Mr Sun was sent to Pangkham, cap­i­tal of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), where he met with lead­ers of the Wa armed group and en­cour­aged them to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in the peace process steered by the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment.

The commander-in-chief ’s visit this week comes at a time when mil­i­tary ten­sions be­tween the UWSA and the Tat­madaw are sim­mer­ing, with the Wa’s ally, the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (NDAA) or Mongla group, caught in be­tween.

In Septem­ber, UWSA fight­ers in­vaded ter­ri­tory held by the NDAA and cap­tured two moun­tain posts and a check­point of strate­gic im­por­tance for the Mongla group.

An ul­ti­ma­tum sub­se­quently sent to the Wa by the Tat­madaw, or­der­ing it to with­draw its fight­ers from the Mongla ter­ri­tory be­fore Oc­to­ber 24, went ig­nored.

Global Times, a Chi­nese state mouth­piece, re­ported on Oc­to­ber 31 that Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing would seek Chi­nese sup­port to bring peace to north­ern Myan­mar, with the pa­per de­scrib­ing it as “high on his agenda”.

China’s role in its south­ern neigh­bour’s peace process has been a puz­zle for years, but it is widely ac­cepted that Bei­jing ex­erts in­flu­ence over a hand­ful of ma­jor eth­nic armed groups. Shift­ing geopo­lit­i­cal dynamics have been driven in part by Nay Pyi Taw’s turn to­ward the West and away from its long-time de­pen­dence on China, as well as Western na­tions’ in­creas­ing in­volve­ment in the peace process in re­cent years.

Cit­ing an ex­pert on South­east Asia at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, Global Times re­ported, “Since China has con­stantly dis­agreed with the bru­tal sup­pres­sion of eth­nic armed groups by Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary, whose bomb at­tacks killed five peo­ple in Yun­nan prov­ince [in March 2015], the commander-inchief ’s visit will re­as­sure China about the mil­i­tary’s bot­tom line when tack­ling eth­nic un­rest.”

That was a ref­er­ence to er­rant Tat­madaw bombs that crossed into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory dur­ing a con­flict with Kokang rebels in Shan State last year. The in­ci­dent pro­voked the ire of Bei­jing and a pub­lic re­buke at one of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship’s low­est points in re­cent years.

The Global Times re­port also sug­gested that Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary would likely take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to gain “China’s po­lit­i­cal en­dorse­ment, af­ter both China and the United States ac­knowl­edged Myan­mar’s newly elected gov­ern­ment led by Aung San Suu Kyi”.

U Myat Thu, chair of the Yan­gon School of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, said China would con­tinue to play an in­flu­en­tial role in Myan­mar in terms of eco­nomic re­la­tions and with the lat­ter’s do­mes­tic peace process.

“I think China will con­tinue to main­tain that sta­tus,” he said.

Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing has vis­ited Yun­nan and Shanxi prov­inces on this week’s visit as well. Ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary-run news out­let Myawady, the Tat­madaw chief told Ma­jor Gen­eral Yu Kun, po­lit­i­cal com­mis­sar of Yun­nan Mil­i­tary Re­gion, to in­crease “bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion through un­der­stand­ing and aware­ness for fur­ther strength­en­ing friend­ship at the com­mon border”.

Yes­ter­day in a sep­a­rate event, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing also met with Song Tao, di­rec­tor of the Com­mu­nist Party of China’s In­ter­na­tional Li­ai­son Depart­ment.

Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing told a group of Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion of­fi­cials that bi­lat­eral re­la­tions stretched across po­lit­i­cal par­ties, gov­ern­ments and the two coun­tries’ mil­i­taries.

“Myan­mar and China’s diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship, based on the five prin­ci­ples of peace­ful co­ex­is­tence, is in a good place,” he was quoted as say­ing.

Agreed to in 1954, the five peace­ful co­ex­is­tence prin­ci­ples are mu­tual re­spect for each other’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and sovereignty; mu­tual nonag­gres­sion; mu­tual non-in­ter­fer­ence in each other’s in­ter­nal af­fairs; equal­ity and co­op­er­a­tion for mu­tual ben­e­fit; and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence.

Mr Song re­port­edly said China has al­ways re­spected Myan­mar’s sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, and wants the coun­try to suc­ceed on the path­way to sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment. He added that he recog­nised the sig­nif­i­cant role the Tat­madaw has played over the course of Myan­mar’s mod­ern his­tory.

China would con­tinue to in­crease bi­lat­eral ties be­tween gov­ern­ments, mil­i­taries, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the cit­i­zens of the two coun­tries, Song Tao said.

Amid all the warm ex­changes at this week’s meet­ings, it would be easy to for­get about much less cor­dial times, such as when the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party backed the in­sur­gent Com­mu­nist Party of Burma in the af­ter­math of Myan­mar’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish colo­nial rule in 1947.

On his China tour this week, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing also vis­ited China Pre­ci­sion Ma­chin­ery Im­portEx­port Cor­po­ra­tion, a Chi­nese sta­te­owned en­ter­prise that ex­ports arms, mis­sile tech­nol­ogy and air de­fence sys­tems.

‘I think China will con­tinue to main­tain that sta­tus [as an in­flu­en­tial neigh­bour].’

U Myat Thu Yan­gon School of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence

Photo: Aung Khant

Se­nior Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing ad­dresses the 21st -cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence in Nay Pyi Taw on Au­gust 31.

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