China no more ‘paukphaw’

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One bad thing that has come out of Burma’s reopening to the outside world, especially to the West, is that there is less and less trust between China and its former protégé, according to news coming from Naypyitaw.

Zhou Enlai addresses the Bandung Conference. Zhou Enlai led a delegation to attend the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955. Behind him on the left are Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu.
Zhou Enlai addresses the Bandung Conference. Zhou Enlai led a delegation to attend the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955. Behind him on the left are Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu.

“The government, particularly the military, hadn’t been happy in the first place about China’s apparently strong relationship with Wa and Mong La,” said an informed source. “And now it’s distrust has been reinforced by grave suspicions of its support to the Kachins and Kokang.”

All the 4 mentioned armed groups: Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) better known as Kokang, United Wa State Party/United Wa State Army (UWSP/UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) better known as Mong La, are based along the Sino- Burmese border.

“All four groups, especially Kokang, seem to Naypyitaw have become stronger militarily during the past 3 years,” said another source. “Kokang led by Peng Jiasheng, for instance, was only a group in name after the Burma Army’s attack and occupation (of his territory) in 2009. But now it appears to be no less than 1,000 strong. Many of its troops captured dead on the battlefield were found to be carrying Chinese documents.”

A Chinese scholar that visited Chiangmai last year has an explanation for this latest development in the Sino-Burmese relations, when he was asked why China had pressured the KIO/KIA to conclude a ceasefire with Rangoon (then Burma’s capital) in 1994 but did nothing when the KIO/KIA refused to sign a new one with the Thein Sein government later.

“The reason is obvious,” he replied. “Before 2011, Burma had no close friends outside of China. It was in China’s interests to pressure the Kachins then. But now things have changed. With Naypyitaw welcoming Western countries with open arms, Beijing is no longer sure about its trustworthiness. My conclusion is that unless there is some sort of cast-iron guarantee from the Burmese government, the present state of ambiguity will continue.”

The Burma Army, since 2011, has broken the ceasefire with the KIO/KIA in 1994, and has been fighting against it and its allies, Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) as well as the MNDAA. With regards to the UWSP/UWSA and NDAA, so far there has been little or no fighting. But the two are reported to have been beefing up their defenses. The Wa in particular are also reported to have been supporting the KIA, TNLA,SSA and MNDAA with arms and ammo.

“This, together with other factors, can affect the ongoing peace process,” the source returning from Naypyitaw concluded.

Burma and China are the two major signatories of the Bandung Conference’s famous 5 principles of co- existence in 1955, 60 years ago, which are:
1. Mutual respect for each other’s territonal integrity and sovereignty
2. Mutual non-aggression
3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs
4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit
5. Peaceful co-existence

‘Paukphaw’, an affectionate name for China by the Burmese, means ‘sibling’.

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