China, Myan­mar meet as fight­ing con­tin­ues in Shan State

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

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.

Photo: Sup­plied/Face­book

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.

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