The aftermath of the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA) ceasefire anniversary burdened all of us with its new national state or sub-state demand reiterated again with a forceful push, which it has been calling for at least not less than a decade ago. It has formally made known in September 2016, followed by a criteria theoretical proposal in the position paper of 7 member political alliance Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) headed by itself, which was thought out and should be applied on different administrative levels from ethnic self-administrative zone, division to national state corresponding to the population of an ethnic group.
Accordingly, it suggested that if an ethnic group is 100,000 living in the same region, it could apply for autonomous region (zone); if 200,000 autonomous prefecture/district (division); and if 300,000 a national state or national-level state, within the union.
But the Wa’s national state aspirations and demand stirs up a couple of issues that need to be seriously considered.
One is who should be involved on whether to grant its wish and the problem to agree upon the criteria of how different new administrative levels, including the creation of national state, should be carried out. For the time being, the present military-drafted constitution of 2008 includes no such provision to handle them.
Moreover, the debate of constitutional amendment is partly still ongoing and partly still being contested between the Tatmadaw or Burma army and the National League for Democracy (NLD) regime, on whether to carry it out within the parliament as the latter preferred or in the NCA-based peace process negotiation that the former wanted, is not at all clear for the time being. In other words, it is not sure in which venue should the amendment, including the agreement criteria in creating new different form of administrative levels be conducted, much less who should be involved in decision-making pattern for such new creation.
Another sticking point is on what to do with the Wa occupied southern territory along the Thai border that stretches from Mong Hsat to Mong Ton, which the UWSA has deployed with 778, 772, 775, 248, and 518 military divisions.
While there shouldn’t be much problem with carving out a Wa state from its already allotted self-administrative division from the jurisdiction of Shan state, its occupation of Mong Pawk, which is part of Mong Yang township and the southern territory along the Thai border to be included into its demanded Wa state will become a huge problem.
The southern Wa territory is not part of the traditional Wa dwelling place but granted by the Burmese military government for cooperation of UWSA in the war against Shan’s Mong Tai army led by Khun Sa in 1989. The Burmese military later asked the Wa to return back to its original north homestead, but has rejected it and continues to live on at the Thai border until today.
Following the Mong Tai army surrender to the government in 1995, due to its internal disintegration, between 1999 and 2001 a massive forced population transfer was conducted by the UWSA, where 126,000 people from Wa area were forcefully relocated from the Chinese border down to southern Shan state, according to Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) report, updated on August 2017.
The large influx of new settlers caused severe disruption for existing villages, estimated to be over 48,000 – mainly Shan, Lahu and Akha – in southern Shan state. Houses, land, crops and livestock were seized without compensation, and in some areas UWSA started taxing and conscripting local villagers. Thousands of local villagers could not bear this oppression and fled to other areas of Shan state or to Thailand.
Thus, the UWSA is faced with three options on how to make its demand achievable.
The first is going through the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)-based peace negotiation process, which at the moment is being halted due to the two most strongest signatory EAOs suspension of participation, citing unfairness in the procedure and differing interpretation of the NCA. The UWSA and its alliance FPNCC also demanded the amendment of the NCA to become acceptable for them before they could sign it. This would likely take times as several steps are needed even to come to the criteria drafting proposal for new administrative level creation.
The second option is wait for the constitutional amendment deliberation of the NLD, which is being literally blocked by the Tatmadaw directly or indirectly, as it sees the amendment would erode its military supremacy position in political arena. Besides, the UWSA would have to bank on the good will of NLD and Tatmadaw to get affirmative answer to its national state level administrative demand. In other words, it can only appeal and has no direct influence whatsoever.
The third approach is to make declaration that it is a national state, which in effect it has already done, calling itself as “Wa state government” in all occasions even in letters sent to the Myanmar government. However, the government only addresses the Wa as special region 2 or Wa self-administrative division. It won’t make much sense either as what the UWSA wants is the official recognition as a national state within the union.
Of course, it could be different if it is going to declare independence and China would endorse it. But with China’s position strictly against dismemberment of a nation-state, non-interference and adherence of territorial integrity, this is also not going to happen.
As such, the Wa leadership is left with no other option but to make a calculated move and should be patient for the time being. In the same vein, the quasi civilian-military government in Naypyitaw should also try to overcome the political stalemate first among themselves and with all the other stakeholders patiently, so that adequate constitutional amendment could be carried out and eventually come to a political settlement, including the criteria for creation of new different level administrations as desired and aspired by many ethnic groups of the country.