Tatmadaw chief in China amid UWSA tensions
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
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing addresses the 21st -century Panglong Conference in Nay Pyi Taw on August 31.