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Myanmar: Recent Developments: The China Factor

Paper No. 6257                                  Dated 12-May-2017

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

It is well known that three main objectives of the government of Myanmar led by Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi are ethnic reconciliation, economic development and constitutional changes.  Of these, the first objective of ethnic reconciliation has the top most priority and dearly held by Suu Kyi in memory of her father Gen Aung San who was responsible in making a beginning for ethnic reconciliation with the Panglong Agreement in the year 1947.

The second session of the new twenty first Century Panglong Conference after many postponements is due to begin on May 24, 2017 at Naypyidaw. 

It is in this connection that the recent developments in Myanmar are of importance and the China factor looms large.  Suu Kyi is due to visit Beijing soon in connection with the One Belt One Road conference and these problems would be bearing heavily in her mind in dealing with the Chinese.

Ethnic War in the North East Near China Border:

Seven ethnic Armed Oganizations in defiance of the government’s call for a nation wide ceasefire agreement, met at Pangshang, the strong hold of the UWSA and formed an independent political negotiation committee to represent them for talks with the government to seek a “new approach for the political dialogue’.  It rejected the path laid down by the government with a Nation Wide Ceasefire Agreement to begin with. The political leadership of the negotiating committee is to be held by the UWSA Chairman Bao Youxiang, an ethnic Chinese.

The constituents of the new groups are, first the leader- the Wa group- the UWSA that is close to the Chinese and armed by the Chinese, with the second largest ethnic insurgent group, the KIO, and the SSPP/SSA-N ( Shan State Progress party/Shan State Army North). 

Four other groups of lesser importance but very active and fighting on the Chinese border with the Tatmadaw, are TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army), the NDAA (National Democratic Alliance Army- the Mongla group), the MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army -the Kokang groups) and the AA- (Arakan Army).

It is reported that the KIA has followed it up by leaving the UNFC (United Nationalities Federation Council) which is still involved with peace talks with the government.  Thus the KIA appears to have finally given up the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement route and aligned itself with the WA group totally which should be considered as a significant development.  This would also mean that the KIA would now be indirectly controlled by the UWSA and thus in turn by China. It is to be noted, that in the ongoing conflict between the KIA and the Burmese Army, the longer it continues, the greater will be the chances of the KIA being completely dependent on the WA group for sustenance!

With the peace conference scheduled to take place very soon, it not surprising that forces are at work to sabotage the conference.  Fighting has escalated in the last two weeks between the Burmese Army- the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance.  There are daily clashes and the Burmese Army are said to be using artillery. The northern Alliance that consists of KIA, MNDAA, TNLA and the AA claim that the offensive of the Burmese Army was more  to diminish the Suu Kyi’s leadership of the Second Panglong Conference.

The ability to resist by the Northern Alliance the so called offensive of the Burmese Army would very much depend on the support the groups get in terms of equipment and space on UWSA which in turn would depend on the Chinese.  Would it be then correct to say that the Chinese are aware of the ensuing diminution of the influence and authority of Suu Kyi in the event of a failure of the second Panglong Conference?  If so are they in a position to persuade the groups to join the peace talks and not call for a separate peace and political dialogue and thus scuttle the nation wide peace agreement and the dialogue that is to follow?

Kyaukphyu port and Myitsone Dam:

A Reuter report indicates that China is seriously pushing Myanmar to give it an 85 percent stake in a strategically important sea port at Kyaukphyu port. The development of the port is said to be an important component of the One Belt One Road venture of the Chinese.  The proposed Chinese stake claimed by China’s CITIC group more than  50/50 joint venture offered by the Burmese government and rejected by the company. Well placed sources have told Reuters in April that China would be willing to abandon the claim on the unfinished controversial Myitsone dam and would in return expect concessions that would include the Kyakphyu port.

Allowing the Chinese 85 percent of the stake would result in Chinese taking total control of the port and this is not likely to be acceptable to the local people. The reasons given for local opposition would include the failure to involve the local community in any meaningful participation, income, loss of land and access to neighbourhood.  In the proposed special economic zone proposed by China another 20,000 people are at a risk of losing their homes and livelihoods just as it happened in Myitsone Dam.

The protests that are likely to follow in giving the overall control of the project would be similar to an unfair deal that is being made out at Hambantota port where the Sri Lankan Government is proposing to give up 80 percent of equity valued at 1.08 billion in view of debt to the China Merchant Holdings Groups (CMHG), a fully owned Chinese Government Organisation!

What is seen in Myanmar is the pervasive predatory moves by China to control effectively the ethnic insurgency and economic development. 

It is said that the One Belt One Road initiative with investments of over 57 billion US Dollars including the development of Gwadar port is going to cost heavily to Pakistan at the time of return of the loans. 

While Pakistan has already become a colony of China, it remains to be seen whether a proud nation like Myanmar will fall into such debt traps.

 

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