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Myanmar: Army Chief Hints at Chinese Meddling in Ethnic Conflict:

Paper No. 6614                    Dated 5-July-2020
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
 
In my earlier paper 6497 of 20th September 2019, titled “Renewed Fighting by Northern Alliance - Is China Part of Problem”, I had stated that there is an increasing suspicion and expressed by some even in Myanmar that China is not doing enough and does want to do enough either in bringing to an end the ethnic conflict in Myanmar. ( Shown as Annexure)
 
That paper was in reference to a most daring raid  in August 19 2019 by three of four Northern Alliance- the TNLA, MNDAA and AA backed by China at many points on the border..  The entire border trade in the China with Myanmar  was closed for a few days. But the most serious one is the attack on the garrison town of Pyin Oo Luin also knows as Maymyo not far from Mandalay at the same time.
 
Soon after the attack, the leaders were called over to Yunnan and were given a lecture by none other than Sun Guoxiang, the main interlocutor China has appointed in liaising with the armed ethnic groups on the China border.
 
Sun Guoxiang, I had always maintained in my papers has been appointed not for bringing the ethnic conflict to the end, but the keep the “Pot boiling” so that Myanmar will be indefinitely beholden and thus controlled by China
 
Between November 2019 and January 2020, Myanmar Army had seized several caches of Chinese arms in the Northern Shan State and the list included-
39 M22 Assault Rifles, 22 Medium Machine Guns, 69 M-21 Assault Rifles, 9 M-16, 16 RPG 7s,5 RPG2s and one FN6 
Shoulder fired Surface to Air Missile. (All of them Chinese Made)
 
The last one is deadly and would prevent any air attack on the group in an operation.
 
The fact that the Army publicised the recovery in full detail is itself significant.  
 
In January this year, the Myanmar Army Chief had personally raised this issue with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Xi is said to have promised that China would carefully scrutinize the matter and “solve the problem.”   Xi however pointed out that there were other ways for the armed militants to acquire Chinese Weapons.
 
During Xi’s visit to Myanmar, both Suu Kyi and the Army Chief told the Chinese President of the need to have stability on the Myanmar-China border- an indirect request to stop supporting the outfits.  Xi’s reaction is not known.
 
The  editorial of Irrawady of July 3rd this year, makes it explicit of China’s dubious role in  Peace brokering in Myanmar.  It said and I quote “ While China has offered to play the role fo Peace Broker in Myanmar’s ongoing ethnic conflict, Senior Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army)  leaders say that China is not to be trusted and in fact it continues to support some ethnic groups in Myanmar while at the same time meddling in the peace process.”
 
It is in this context, we should see the interview of Myanmar Army Chief given to the Russian State run TV Channel Zvezda.  He said in the interview that the Terrorist Groups in Myanmar are backed by strong forces.  He sought international cooperation to suppress these armed groups.  The Army Chief was in Russia to attend the 75th Anniversary celebration of the country’s victory day.
 
The Myanmar Army Chief said that “a country may be able to suppress terrorist organisation on its soil.  But in cases where there are strong forces behind that terrorist organisation, the country alone may not be able to handle it.”  
 
Soon after in an interview to the Japanese Paper, Yomiuri Shimbum he mentioned that the armed insurgents received arms from China indirectly.
 
Military Spokesman Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tuin later explained that the Army Chief referred to AA and ARSA.
 
There is no doubt that the Army Chief referred to China as the main culprit in his interview to the Russian TV Channel.  China cannot be trusted as we in India ourselves have realised in the recent Ladakh confrontation when China failed to dismantle the construction that it had agreed to do in a meeting with the highest top military Commanders.  
 
We see  many attempts by Myanmar to reduce its dependence on China and it is now up to the West to support and stop pushing it into the lap of the Chinese. 
 
Annexure:
 
Myanmar-Renewed Fighting by Northern Alliance- Is China part of the problem?
 
Paper no 6497             Dated  20-Sep-2019
 
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.
 
Despite declaration of “unilateral” cease fire by both sides, there has been intensive fighting between the three groups of the Northern Alliance- the TNLA, MNDAA and the AA- the Arakan Army with the Myanmar Army- Tatmadaw.
 
The offensive by the three groups on August 15th disrupting communication and trade on the Chinese border near Musse for many days is said to have surprised the Army and the Myanmar Government. It is doubtful whether the Chinese could also have been surprised.
 
The pre-planned simultaneous attack at many places in the northern Shan State and even in places close to Mandalay region could not have been done without proper planning and preparations for many days. The movement of insurgents spreading out over a wide area and transport of military supplies over many days    could not have happened without knowledge if not acquiescence from the Chinese authorities in Yunnan.
 
Despite three rounds of meetings on China’s intervention, the most recent one being on the 18th, no agreement could be reached.  All that was agreed was that they would meet again for further discussions!
 
Some common characteristics among the three groups were
All the three groups are not recognized officially by the Government.
All the three groups have not settled territory and the Myanmar Army is not willing to concede any permanent settled territory.
All the three have no open sources of income and yet they are well armed and trained.
The Arakan Army which had its base in Laiza under the protection of the KIA has over a period of time infiltrated into their home State-Rakhine State in large numbers and over a period of time have established a major presence in the Rakhine as well in the neighbouring Chin State.
 
Even when the talks were going on, between the three groups, there was heavy fighting near Minbaya township in Rakhine State and the Myanmar Army is alleged to have used helicopter gunships against its own people. The Arakan Army has continued to inflict causalities on the Myanmar Army.
 
In the negotiations that were taking place between the three groups ( they call it ‘Brotherhood’ alliance), the Army’s main demand has been that the three groups should go back to their original places- that the Arakan Army to Laiza, the MNDAA back to Kokang where they belong to and the TNLA to the Palaung Self -Administered Zone before any bilateral ceasefire could be agreed. This is unlikely to happen in the near future and prolonged fighting between the three groups on one side and the Army on the other is expected to continue for a long time.
 
 
Individually the three groups are small in number and cannot sustain themselves for long without outside support.  It is said that both the AA and the TNLA are fostered by the KIA- the second largest ethnic insurgent outfit and the MNDAA by the “Wa” group.  And all of them come under the umbrella of FPNCC (Federal Political Negotiation Committee and the group as a whole led by Wa have not signed the National Cease fire agreement.
 
The Wa Group which is the strongest and the biggest of ethnic groups is said to have its own courts, schools and hospitals and even a modern TV station!  What is more the currency used is Yuan and not Kyat and the common language spoken is not Bamar but Chinese.  Except for reiterating periodically that they are part of Myanmar the Wa group has nothing in common with Myanmar and for all practical purposes is a part of ‘Yunnan province.
 
There was some problem in deciding on the venue for the third round of talks.   The three groups of the Northern Alliance had suggested either Pangshang the Headquarters of the Wa groups or in China.  The Government was not willing to accept Pangshang for security reasons and finally they settled for Kengtung in Shan State.
 
It is now being increasingly felt by the stake holders that without China’s involvement the ethnic strife cannot be managed! Thus China has positioned itself to be relevant in the negotiations!
 
It may be recalled that new Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai declared on 22nd August that China “seriously” condemns the violent attacks in the Northern Shan State and the Mandalay garrison and that it would continue to support Myanmar’s peace proposals in all possible ways and the peace dialogue. It does not take much time for China to get at least those operating near their border the TNLA and the MNDAA to end the fighting.
 
Following the August 15 attacks, China called all the three leaders of the groups to Kunming for urgent talks.  Sun Guoxiang, the special emissary of the Chinese who is dealing with the Myanmar insurgent groups told them that the “fighting was unacceptable” to China. Yet clashes have continued.
 
So, on the surface, it looks that China is doing all that it could to bring the fighting between the three groups of the Northern Alliance and the Myanmar Army to an end.  All the three meetings were held at China’s behest and it is learnt that Sun Guoxiang met both Suu Kyi and the Army Chief before the last round of meeting at Kengtung on the 18th of this month that failed to reach an agreement even on the first step of having a bilateral cease fire. 
 
If one is to make a “benefit analysis” it would appear that China would gain most with the projects like the Musse- Mandalay road, high speed railway from China through Mandalay to Yangon, the pipe line and the development of Kyaukphyu port and economic zone being completed in a stable and peaceful environment. Is it possible that these small groups like TNLA and the MNDAA are defying the Chinese and going ahead with attacks on the infrastructure on the Myanmar China border causing disruption to traffic and trade?
 
 There is an increasing suspicion and has been expressed by some even in Myanmar media that China is not doing enough and does not want to do enough either. Only then China would continue to be relevant in the peace process and Myanmar will have look upon the Chinese authorities to control the insurgents.!. s
 
It is said that even smaller groups like the Kokang are taking the offensive just to keep themselves relevant- but the general view shared by many is that China is in a position to bring the fighting to an end and get the seven groups alliance led by Wa to join the peace process and not push for a  new narrative on the peace deal as it has been doing so far.
 
Though the Wa group has been producing in a limited way some its arms, the weapons and ammunition used by the three groups now engaged in fighting the Myanmar Army are supplied by the Chinese directly or or in flourishing arms market at Rui li.  One way of putting pressure China is to stop supplying arms and also ensure that Wa does not support the other groups with arms.  This is not happening!
 
Though not related to China, there was an interesting report in the media that the Indian Intelligence had reported that the Arakan Army had set up several camps across Mizorm’s Lawngtala district and thus posing a threat to the Indian Kaladan Project!  This appears to part of a “fake” narrative and so far, the AA has not interfered with Indian projects except for one odd incident when some bridge laying equipment was burnt. India is in no position either to stop such attacks if the Arakan Army decides to do so. There are no verifiable reports that the fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Tatmadaw has spilled into India. The chief of the Arakan Army had also declared in one of his interaction with the media during the 30th anniversary celebrations in the Wa capital at Pangshang that they will not disrupt development projects in the region. There is no reason to give credence to such fake reports that seem to be circulating in the North east!
 
 
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