In his 3 April monthly radio message to the nation, President Thein Sein said he would not let Burma’s strategic relationship with great powers and as well, neighboring countries, go astray, because of the Kokang conflict, which erupted on 9 February, when fighting between the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and government forces were first reported. The fighting lingers on and seems it could drag on for some time to come.
Thein Sein, referring to Kokang affairs, said: “Currently, we are trying to achieve stability and peace in Kokang region as the key undertaking at this stage. Since in building a new nation, protection of the rights of indigenous and minorities is the prioritized undertaking, we have to strive step by step for the political, economic and social stability and development of the Kokang self-administered zone. At a time when it is necessary to have good relations with neighboring countries as well as superpowers in the world, impact by such conflict on our country’s strategic relations with them cannot be tolerated.”
This speech was delivered after Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin met with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Wang Yi, in Beijing on April 2 and expressed his apologies for the incident in Lincang, Yunnan, on the China-Myanmar border.
In a BBC discussion forum “Burma and World Issues” (“Myanmar ah yay, Kaba ah yay” ), aired on 4 April, Dr Hla Kyaw Zaw, an expert on Burma and China, based in Kunming, regarding Kokang conflict and the deteriorating Burma-China relationship, said it is deplorable that the Thein Sein regime is portraying China as a frightful figure to win over U.S. backing and sympathy, by showing China in a bad light. Burma has already achieved quite a lot of concessions in most areas from the U.S., except only from the military, which Thein Sein regime is not yet fully satisfied. She also accused Thein Sein regime for its narrow outlook of employing the policy of racism and hatred to divert people’s anger against the regime, which she labeled as not at all modern and also out-dated.
She further said that small countries like Burma should be clever and sophisticated on how to chart the political waters, where superpowers and big regional powers have their own grand strategies to implement.
She also explained the meaning of “Strategic Partnership” as a strategy that implies not only bilateral relationship, but covers Asian, regional and international cooperation. In other words, developing countries, ASEAN, United Nations and so on are involved in this concept of strategic partnership.
Accordingly, a “Joint Statement Between The Republic of the Union of Myanmar and The People’s Republic of China on Establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership”, was signed, on 27 May 2011, in Beijing. Of the 7 point agreement, 3 are of utmost important to the current development along the Burma-China border. They are:
- The two sides will follow the principles of equality, mutual benefit, drawing upon each others’ strengths and emphasizing practical results, further enhance the size and level of the economic cooperation and trade between the two countries, work to strengthen healthy, stable and sustainable business ties, make joint efforts to create a favourable environment for trade and investment cooperation, enhance the closer economic and trade exchanges between the two countries in accordance with their economic and trade policies.
- The two sides will strengthen border management cooperation, conduct timely communication on border management affairs, and strive to maintain peace, tranquility and stability in border areas.
- The Chinese side reaffirms its respect for Myanmar’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and its support for Myanmar’s pursuit of its development path suited to its national conditions. Myanmar reiterates that its adheres to one China policy, recognizes that the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and that Taiwan is unalienable part of the Chinese territory, will continue to support the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and China’s cause of peaceful reunification. ( Source: The New Light of Myanmar, 29 May 2011, page 10)
According to a research paper “China’s strategic partnership diplomacy: engaging with a changing world”, written by Feng Zhongping and Huang Jing:
China has established strategic partnerships with 47 countries and three international organizations, mostly since the early 2000s.
China has developed various titles and mechanisms for different strategic partnerships that reflect the distinct characteristics of each partnership and which can change over time. Though the calculations behind each strategic partnership vary, as a whole they are designed to protect China’s core interests (the defensive logic) and to construct a better environment for China’s rise (the assertive logic).
It is not clear, how Burma is being categorized from the point of the China’s strategic partnership variables, but it is the biggest investor, with over 14 billion dollars, in some 50 projects in Burma. Thus, China’s economic stake is quite sizable, if not the biggest, compare to its other investment around the world. But from Geo-strategical and its energy consumption point of view, Burma could be quite high in its strategic partnership consideration, within the region.
With this in mind, no one would entertain the scenario that China would ever dream of openly helping or betting on Peng Jiasheng and his MNDAA and abandon its vast other economic interest in the whole Burma. But this is not to say, China will come down hard on MNDAA, to please Thein Sein government, for officially, non-interference and adhering to territorial integrity are its prescribed norms.
According to Altsean March Edition, China was angered by the spillover of Burma Army (BA), also known as Tatmadaw, air strikes and following the attacks, on 14 March, the Chinese Defense Ministry warned the regime that it must apologize for the 13 March bombing, punish those responsible, and compensate victims’ families
The documentation of the BA air strikes in Kokang Self-Administered Zone, Shan State, spilled over into China’s Yunnan Province on four separate occasions, sparking Chinese condemnation, are as follows:
- 8 March: A Tatmadw fighter jet dropped four bombs in Mengding Township.
- 11 March: Tatmadaw troops launched air strikes on Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) forces near the China-Burma border in Laogai Township. Four bombs landed on the Chinese side.
- 13 March: Several Tatmadaw aircraft bombed a sugarcane field in Lincang, killing five farmers and injuring eight others.
- 20 March: Tatmadaw aircraft dropped bombs on Mengdui Township, with several landing in refugee camps.
Taking all the mentioned points into consideration, it could be concluded if the BA goes on with its offensives, unintended stray-bombs would fall on China’s soil again, sooner or later. Given the Chinese ultimatum, the scenario that follows will be the end of strategic partnership. And since Thein Sein has explicitly said in his latest monthly speech that he won’t let it go astray, the only logical approach would be to opt for negotiation with the MNDAA. Besides, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) has also made it clear that it would only consider to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), if all 22 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are included in the peace process.
Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which has so far been staying at arm’s length concerning the ongoing peace process, will be now be hosting the EAOs meeting to discuss and made decision on the fourth NCA draft, after which they will decide whether to sign it or not. One couldn’t help speculating, if the UWSA is acting on behalf of China, given that it is always been seen as China’s proxy.
But in spite of all these development, the recent regime’s official apology to the Chinese government is the right approach, to the whole conflict.
Under these circumstances, negotiation might be the only pragmatic way out, to get out of this deadlock and maintain the strategic partnership with China alive, which could even lead to a comprehensive political settlement, if pragmatic power-sharing and resources-sharing are implemented, leading to the making of a new nation, as Thein Sein has highlighted, where all could co-exist peacefully in harmony.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor