China, Myanmar meet as fighting continues in Shan State
CHINA has stepped up its engagement with Myanmar’s peace process amid ongoing clashes near the country’s shared border in Shan State, having twice held senior-level meetings with negotiators over the past week.
A nine-member delegation from Myanmar is meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China this week, an adviser to the Myanmar Peace Commission confirmed yesterday. The delegation, led by peace commission chair U Tin Myo Win, was invited on the November 26 to December 2 trip by Beijing. Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, the head of the Tatmadaw’s No 2 Bureau of Special Operations, responsible for four commands in Shan State, and BrigadierGeneral Than Hlaing are also among the delegates.
The envoys’ upcoming China visit comes in the wake of a joint November 20 attack by a coalition of ethnic armed groups against the Tatmadaw along a trade corridor in Muse and Kutkai townships, northern Shan State.
Ongoing fighting has had direct consequences for China. Thousands of Myanmar civilians have poured over the border seeking refuge, while stray munitions have also crossed the divide. China has responded by cautioning all groups to exercise “restraint” and urged them back to the negotiating table, while also ramping up its own security presence along the Yunnan province side of the border.
One of the main parties involved in the fighting, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), has direct ties to China. The ethnically Chinese force is led by Pheung Kyarshin, an 85-year-old warlord who was ousted from the region in a Tatmadaw offensive in 2009 and is reported to have spent some of the last six years in China regrouping his forces. China has previously denied providing support to the MNDAA.
When fighting between the Tatmadaw and the MNDAA escalated in February 2015, relations with Beijing and Nay Pyi Taw took a frosty turn, with Myanmar state media accusing China of harbouring rebels and allies, and providing treatment in Chinese hospitals.
During the more recent conflict, China appears to have assumed a mediating role, sending a Chinese delegation comprised of military and foreign affairs officials to Nay Pyi Taw at the same time as the Myanmar envoy travelled to China.
“From China’s point of view, actively engaging and helping facilitate [the peace process] can help to secure the border,” Chao Chung-chi, an assistant professor of Southeast Asian studies at National Chinan University, told VOA on November 23.
Following the November 26 meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying the first so-called “2+2” meeting of defence and foreign ministry representatives from both China and Myanmar involved discussions on “matters of security and development along the borders of the two countries” and “the stability in Myanmar-China border areas, [as well as] China’s constructive support for the peace process of Myanmar”.
After the 2+2 meeting, the Chinese delegation met with Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing about “China’s stance and actions regarding the ongoing incidents in the northeastern region”, the Tatmadaw-run Myawady newspaper reported.
China has traditionally taken a more reticent, backseat approach toward Myanmar’s peace process, offering mostly abstract statements of support. The recent conflict near the border has prompted an outpouring of responses on social media, with many suggesting China take on a facilitating role. Chinese state media has echoed the sentiment.
Last week, Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, ran two editorials that called on Beijing to take a “more active approach” in response to the Shan State offensive.
The op-ed also said the instability and fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Tatmadaw along the border was disturbing the Chinese frontier, adding that China could take stronger measures to coordinate and mediate.
None of the groups engaged in the ongoing fighting – the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the MNDAA and the Arakan Army – have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
However, U Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser to the Myanmar Peace Commission, tried to downplay the significance of the Myanmar delegation’s China trip.
“They are inviting a lot of people from Myanmar to China. This is one such kind of visit. They are only having general discussions about the situation along the Myanmar-China border,” he said yesterday.
U Hla Muang Shwe added that the talks would also include the “situation” in northern Shan State.
A separate November 24 Global Times article headlined “Only negotiations, not violence, can improve peace prospects in Myanmar”, which was translated into Myanmar language and posted on the Chinese embassy in Yangon’s official Facebook page, said the ongoing fighting is challenging “China’s sovereignty, security and strategic interests”.
The article also said Myanmar’s ongoing armed conflicts are undermining China’s strategic interest in the country, including “the massive border trade and huge investment” and “security of pipelines and other large-scale investment projects in Myanmar”.
“With its significant geopolitical location, Myanmar has a prominent status in China’s One Belt and One Road initiative and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. But these initiatives will have a shadow cast upon them by the fighting in Myanmar,” it said.
Myanmar and Chinese officials meet in China yesterday to discuss, among other matters, renewed conflict between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups along the countries’ shared border.