According to BBC report Gen. Min Naing-led negotiation team is in Kunming, China to talk to the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BHA), made up of Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), for the second time. However, only the first two groups will be of importance, as there will be a sort of give-and-take territorial demarcation in the form of horse trading to defuse the armed conflict in northern Shan State.
The first talk held also in Kunming was on December 11, which was said to be a truce for the time span of a week, from December 11 to 17.
During the week MNDAA de-escalated the military engagement and tried to build up its administrative structure. But on December 18 the battle resumes which goes on until today.
In the aftermath of first ceasefire even though armed conflict has de-escalated the TNLA heightened the offensive and took Namkham and 105 miles trading zone in Muse. Besides, it could also now control the Palaung, Namhsan area completely, it is now in control of two towns and China-Myanmar border biggest trade zone.
As 105 Muse trade zone is the main food export facility from Myanmar to the whole Yunan Province of China, and fierce fighting which includes airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardment effecting the Chinese side of the border, China is worried for its citizen’s safety and also its economic projects inside Myanmar, said the BBC report.
China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly mentioned Myanmar issue on December 19, 20, and 21.
On December 21, Spokesman Wang Wenbin of Chinese foreign ministry said that China is helping to broker a truce through negotiation among concerned parties.
He included a kind of demand and persuasion aiming at the conflict parties in his recent briefing saying: “It is hoped that all concerned parties, within a peaceful China-Myanmar border atmosphere, will help protect all Chinese projects and security of the workers in Myanmar.”
Likely main agendas for the second meeting
According to BBC the second meeting is programmed to tackle the de-escalation of armed engagement and demarcation of control territories between the junta and the 3BHA.
But this time around the Kokang or MNDAA and TNLA will be two main negotiation partners, while the AA role is not quite clear.
“The Sit-tat (Myanmar Army) will give the territory back to Kokang, which means to take territories east of Salween River. But Kokang may not be ready to the bargaining of giving back Kunlong, Kyukok, Panghsai and Hsenwi which it has already captured,” said the news source, according to the BBC report.
Besides, some of the TNLA captured territories also need to be discussed.
“News are going around that Sit-tat wants to get back Muse 105 miles trading zone. It is ready to give (or negotiate) Namhsan, Mantung, including four towns in Palaung area,” said the same source.
On top of that knowledgeable sources said that in the second meeting China may pressured the 3BHA to accept ceasefire.
SSPP and RCSS
At the moment, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) are not commenting on Operation 1027 led by the 3BHA. But surprisingly the warring two Shan armies SSPP and RCSS were able to sign an official ceasefire pact after the 3BHA offensive in northern Shan State.
“The two Shan armies which weren’t talking to each other at all since 2015 are now able to negotiate. It is clear the intention is that the north and south (SSPP and RCSS) armies must stick together in order to protect their territories,” according to one military observer.
Military observers said since the battle field includes some of the Kachin and Shan armies control areas, the TNLA needs to negotiate with them.
“Now TNLA is waging war in KIA Brigade 4 area and news said that there are frictions between the two,” according to a military observer.
But TNLA general secretary Brigadier General Tar Phong Kyaw said such territorial division issues are one-sided concerns and that they are working to coordinate policies with the Shan leaders.
“Not only with the Shan, we also explain our opinion to the Kachin. The shape of the Ta’ang State we desire is being discussed. We are engaging in battles not to expand our territory. Its military deployment plan now are in areas where most Ta’ang Palaung are living,” he said.
Actual TNLA aspirations
The actual intention of the TNLA is establishing a new state administration carved out from Shan State and it has made known publicly time and again so there is no argument on it. But the problem lies in its conviction to expand its territorial control into neighbouring adjacent areas, where there are no Ta’ang majority population at the expense of the local inhabitants who are Shan, Kachin and other non-Ta’ang ethnic groups.
The TNLA claimed territories are disputable and the Palaung or Ta’ang are minority and not even in majority in many of the claimed townships. Looking at the map of TNLA designated Ta’ang State, as publicized by the International Crisis Group, it is about six times larger than the original Palaung Self-Administered Zone. It has expanded to south-west, south, east and north-east from its originally given territory.
The International Crisis Group on 4 September 2023, released a report titled “Treading a Rocky Path: The Ta’ang Army Expands in Myanmar’s Shan State,” where the TNLA desired map to establish its Ta’ang State is publicized.
Already tensions have been rising due to territorial disputes between the KIA and TNLA, and SSPP and TNLA. The latter dispute erupted into armed clashes on 23 September and recently November 7, where four from each side were killed in the firefight.
Thus, the TNLA recent take over of Namkham, where the majority of some 80 percent are Shan will definitely become problematic which may lead to inter-ethnic conflict.
In short, the TNLA wants to expand its territorial control from the original Namshan and Mantung to include other townships, in which it has only a minority population of under 10 percent.
Concerning the TNLA aspirations the SSPP said that every ethnic group could aim for higher administrative status like fully fledged ethnic state within the union. But whether it will materialize or officially feasible according to the given law is totally another question.
But the RCSS seems to opt for a kind of Federated Shan States of 1922, where all ethnic groups were able to administer themselves with their own ruler or leader, and collective leadership practised at the central, federal level. But of course, it will have to be in tune with the present day political atmosphere with innovation. In short, a sort of Shan State federal union within the country’s union.
Having said that, whether the urging of second Chinese mediation for truce between the warring parties will work or not is still too early to speculate.
For the moment, whether the Kokang and TNLA will be satisfied with give-and-take territorial horse trading and abandon their original rhetoric to uproot the military junta for the benefit of the whole country is not clear.
Equally, the TNLA territorial expansion, including the Kokang’s administration of Hsenwi town, with its Shan majority population which it has recently captured are political time bombs that need to be urgently address, if inter-ethnic harmony is to be maintained.
In sum, even if China could pressure the 3BHA to a truce with the military junta through territorial horse trading, the Spring Revolution will still go on even if it might weaken the revolution as a whole a bit. But the territorial expansion urge of TNLA and Kokang as well will not be able to hinder the brewing inter-ethnic conflict until a common interest aspirations of all ethnic groups to live in harmony within Shan State is resolved.