NO ‘BIG BANG’ Eth­nic groups of­fer mixed re­sponse to Chi­nese Pres­i­dent’s state visit

Eth­nic groups of­fer mixed re­sponse to Chi­nese Pres­i­dent's state visit

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CULTURE & LIFESTYLE - Sai Wan­sai

China's Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping's two-day Myan­mar visit from Jan­uary 17 to 18 is re­mark­able in a sense of height­en­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship con­cern­ing the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI), although no “big bang” sort of agree­ment as spec­u­lated has been reached.

How­ever, the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship could be seen as sta­ble and even deep­en­ing as the State Coun­selor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Chi­nese pres­i­dent wit­nessed the ex­change of 33 agree­ments, mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MOU) and doc­u­ments be­tween Myan­mar and China.

“Both sides agreed to step up BRI co­op­er­a­tion and pro­mote the three pil­lars of the China-Myan­mar Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CMEC), namely the Kyauk Phyu Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone, Myan­mar-China Bor­der Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Zones, and new ur­ban de­vel­op­ment of Yangon City as well as frame­work in­fras­truc­ture projects of con­nec­tiv­ity such as roads, rail­ways, elec­tric power and en­ergy. Both sides agreed to des­ig­nate the year 2020 as “Myan­mar-China Year of Cul­ture and Tourism”, ac­cord­ing to the Myan­mar Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs an­nounce­ment, on 18 Jan­uary 2020.

The said an­nounce­ment wrote: “The Chi­nese side sup­ports the ef­forts of the Myan­mar side to ad­vance the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and peace process through po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue based on the spirit of Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence. The Myan­mar side ap­pre­ci­ates the pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive sup­port ex­tended by the Chi­nese side to the process.”

In ad­di­tion: “The Chi­nese side also sup­ports the ef­forts of Myan­mar to ad­dress the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion, and to pro­mote peace, sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment for all com­mu­ni­ties in Rakhine State. Myan­mar re­it­er­ated its com­mit­ment to re­ceive ver­i­fied dis­placed per­sons based on the bi­lat­eral agree­ment reached be­tween Myan­mar and Bangladesh. Myan­mar thanked China for its un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­ity of the is­sue and for all its sup­port to Myan­mar.”

Sur­pris­ingly, the con­tro­ver­sial My­it­sone Dam pro­ject was not men­tioned dur­ing the two-day Chi­nese pres­i­dent visit.

Con­cern­ing the visit, opin­ions dif­fered quite a lot be­tween the eth­nic armed or­ga­ni­za­tions (EAOs), that haven't signed the na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment (NCA) with the gov­ern­ment based on the op­po­site side of the China bor­der in north­ern Shan State, and eth­nic civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions (CSOs) from Kachin, Shan and Arakan (Rakhine) states, in­clud­ing var­i­ous eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties (EPPs).

All four mem­bers of the rebel North­ern Al­liance-Burma (NA-B), the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA), Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (TNLA) — which are in armed con­flict with the gov­ern­ment troops in Arakan, Kachin, and north­ern Shan states, is­sued state­ments wel­com­ing the pres­i­dent's visit.

All sup­ported the BRI, although Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­ga­ni­za­tion (KIO), the po­lit­i­cal wing of the KIA, in its state­ment didn't men­tion the BRI projects but em­pha­sized that bi­lat­eral agree­ments might help set­tle Kachin state's civil war and boost se­cu­rity in un­sta­ble bor­der ar­eas. The KIO state­ment also sug­gested that Pres­i­dent Xi should take into con­sid­er­a­tion the di­verse opin­ions of dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing lend­ing them nec­es­sary sup­port.

But the KIA didn't men­tion the con­tro­ver­sial My­it­sone Dam pro­ject in its state­ment and the AA also failed to give any opin­ion on Kyauk Phyu Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone, which is one of the three main pil­lars of BRI co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Myan­mar.

The opin­ion of AA, TNLA and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the strong­est with some 30,000 troops, in their state­ments read­ily agreed that BRI projects and the CMEC would ben­e­fit eth­nic lo­cal peo­ple. The UWSA even stated in its state­ment that the BRI projects would im­prove Myan­mar’s out­dated econ­omy, trade, and in­fras­truc­ture.

More­over, the UWSA in­di­cated that the north­ern Myan­mar peace process is linked to the de­vel­op­ment of Myan­mar-China and peo­ple to peo­ple bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships. In this re­spect, the UWSA is de­ter­mined to strive for an ap­pro­pri­ate, ef­fec­tive, prac­ti­cal, po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to re­solve the north­ern Myan­mar peace process, ac­cord­ing to its state­ment.

TNLA spokesman Colonel Mai Aik Kyaw hoped that the BRI projects would be suc­cess­ful and ben­e­fit the peo­ple.

He rea­soned his en­dorse­ment say­ing, “Mainly, the BRI projects that cut through north­ern Shan if suc­cess­ful will ben­e­fit the lo­cal peo­ple. I see it like this.”

“The main thing is the peo­ple have to re­ally ben­e­fit from it. Those who are neg­a­tively af­fected would have to be justly com­pen­sated. My view is China can­not be re­spon­si­ble on such mat­ters and it is solely the bur­den of the (Myan­mar) gov­ern­ment,” he added.

Mean­while, Kachin, Shan and Arakan CSOs is­sued state­ments of their own call­ing on Pres­i­dent Xi to stop the BRI projects in their re­spec­tive ar­eas.

Like­wise, the Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democracy (SNLD) also re­leased a state­ment on Chi­naMyan­mar eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion in gen­eral, point­ing out the like­li­hood of more con­flict if pro­ject im­ple­men­ta­tions were to be car­ried out by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment without the con­sent of the lo­cal peo­ple and con­cerned eth­nic state par­lia­ments.

SNLD spokesman Sai Leik said as the im­ple­men­ta­tions are closely linked to land use and like­li­hood of land con­fis­ca­tion for planned BRI projects, prob­lems and con­flicts are bound to hap­pen.

“If high-speed rail in­clud­ing mo­tor road will be built from north­ern Shan to Man­dalay, all land along the planned road net­work will be con­fis­cated. No­body could be cer­tain re­gard­ing the land con­fis­ca­tion, the lo­cal peo­ple might find them­selves in trou­ble un­der the new law on va­cant land [Va­cant, Fal­low and Vir­gin Land Man­age­ment Law (VFV Land Law)],” he ex­plained.

“Th­ese are the con­cerns and prob­lems that the peo­ple might be fac­ing to­mor­row and they are glar­ing ex­am­ples”

In the same vein, on Jan­uary 16, the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Al­liance, which has some 15 EPPs as mem­bers, is­sued a five-point state­ment on how en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­ci­etal sus­te­nance could be achieved con­cern­ing in­vest­ment and pro­ject im­ple­men­ta­tion.

They are af­fir­ma­tive con­sent of the peo­ple; re­gard­ing union-wide projects se­cur­ing peo­ple's in­puts, trans­parency and in­clud­ing wide pub­lic aware­ness dis­tri­bu­tion; without agree­ment from the lo­cal peo­ple no pro­ject is to be un­der­taken; only after en­vi­ron­men­tally chal­lenged so­lu­tions and mech­a­nism are in place, should the pro­ject be ac­cepted and im­ple­mented; and opin­ions of con­cerned po­lit­i­cal par­ties, lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple in fea­si­bil­ity, con­fir­ma­tion, field stud­ies and tri­als have to be sought.

Taken into ac­count of the un­fold­ing sce­nar­ios be­fore and the after­math of the Chi­nese pres­i­dent visit, the ques­tions arise as to why the EAOs read­ily endorsed the BRI, without any ques­tions, but the CSOs and the EPPs roundly re­jected it.

The an­swer is sim­ple enough. The EAOs that have not yet signed the NCA are sta­tioned along the China bor­der and all have to rely on China for pro­vi­sions, am­mu­ni­tion to ar­ma­ments and not to men­tion the po­lit­i­cal sup­port in the de­lib­er­a­tion of peace talks with the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment. Thus, it is no won­der that they have to wel­come the BRI and fall in line with the re­gional power, which now is fast be­com­ing a su­per­power.

The CSOs and the EPPs, on the other hand, are lo­cally based and who know first­hand the griev­ances of the pop­u­la­tion. Apart from that the cen­tral union gov­ern­ment call­ing the shots without the eth­nic states pop­u­la­tion's con­sent are hardly in line with the as­pi­ra­tions of a fed­eral union.

All in all, the 33 MOUs signed are not con­tracts as yet. And as such a lot of al­ter­ation and changes will def­i­nitely take place in the after­math of the 2020 na­tional elec­tions.

Mean­while, China will just have to be sat­is­fied with the launch­ing of Myan­mar-China Cul­ture and Tourism Year 2020 to cel­e­brate the 70th An­niver­sary of the Es­tab­lish­ment of Myan­mar-China Diplo­matic Re­la­tions.

Who knows, “the pro­mo­tion of peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes and closer col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­or­di­na­tion in both re­gional and mul­ti­lat­eral fora on is­sues of mu­tual in­ter­est” will bring pos­i­tive out­comes, rather than just only neg­a­tive re­jec­tion from eth­nic pop­u­la­tion, who mostly are sad­dled with the BRI mega projects.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping with Myan­mar Pres­i­dent Win Myint in Nay Pyi Taw. Photo: EPA

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