News / Asia

    China Hosts Burma-Rebel Peace Talks for Economic, Strategic Benefit

    Burmese people living in Malaysia protest to condemn the persecutions committed by the Burmese army towards ethnic minorities, near the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (file photo)
    Burmese people living in Malaysia protest to condemn the persecutions committed by the Burmese army towards ethnic minorities, near the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (file photo)
    Daniel Schearf

    Burma has won praise for signing a series of ceasefires with ethnic rebel groups fighting for autonomy. But renewed conflict with one group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), is threatening peace in a key border area with China.

    Burma’s resource-rich northern Kachin state has been the site of sporadic fighting since June, when a 17-year-old ceasefire ended with violent clashes.

    Since then, thousands of villagers have fled across the border into China. To help resolve the situation, Beijing, which has billions invested in regionally-based trade and energy projects, has been quietly hosting peace talks between Burmese authorities and the rebels.

    Brian Erikson of Partners in Relief and Development, an international Christian charity with a specific focus on the welfare of Burmese children, estimates that more than 60,000 people were displaced around the border area.

    Those inside Burma, he says, are short on food with many are suffering from respiratory infections exacerbated by cold weather.

    "There are definitely people numbering in the thousands that have fled from a direct conflict with the Burma army ... direct confrontation where armed soldiers forcibly claimed area, property and sometimes people," said Erikson. "And so people fled amidst live rounds of gunfire - I think the majority have fled from fear of this situation."

    International organizations and journalists have been granted limited access to Kachin state, leaving specifics of the situation difficult to verify. Details on the Chinese side, where authorities have not acknowledged any refugee crisis but have provided neutral territory for both sides to hold talks twice since November, are also unclear.

    Raviprasad Narayanan, a researcher at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, says China’s role as host is a result of a similar 2009 conflict between Burma’s military and a Kokan militia in Shan state, which disrupted trade and sent thousands of refugees fleeing into China.

    "This new round of interest that Beijing has shown, it emerges out of ... the August 2009 Kokang conflict," said Narayanan. "Now you [have] the refugee crisis on China’s border, and this [has] created a lot of hiccups, not only for the provincial leadership but also for people sitting in Beijing. Hence they felt that they should not be out of [the] loop at any moment lest they be caught off guard."


    A financial stake

    The continued fighting in Kachin threatens not only peace, but also billions of dollars in Chinese trade and investments.

    After hostilities erupted near the construction site of the controversial, $3.5 billion Myitsone hydropower dam, Burmese President Thein Sein suspended construction, surprising and upsetting the Chinese.

    Beijing has deals to build seven hydropower dams in Kachin state, with the vast majority of the electricity going to China.

    China also buys and invests in Burmese minerals, precious stones and logging - not all of it legal - and, in return, sells cheap manufactured goods.

    Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Ruili-based Burma analyst, says China is hosting peace talks to protect its economic interests.

    "In the northern Kachin area, especially the KIA controlled area, so [much] government capital, Chinese government capital," he said. "They need peace."


    Pipelines, arms deals

    Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, says oil and gas pipelines that China and Burma are jointly laying across the country are of even greater importance.

    When finished, the pipelines will stretch from Burma’s western coast and into China at Ruili, just south of Kachin state and not far from the recent fighting, providing a strategic alternative route for African and Middle East oil to flow to China while avoiding the piracy-prone Strait of Malacca.

    For China, says Zarni, the pipelines make peace between Burmese authorities and Kachin's rebel armies a strategic imperative.

    "The Kachin state becomes extremely vital both to the Burmese military and Beijing in terms of ... providing security for the pipeline as well as the cross-border trading post," he said.

    Military analysts say China is also the largest supplier of weapons to the United Wa State Army, the largest of Burma's armed rebel groups, estimated at up to 30,000 fighters and considered the biggest narcotics dealing organization in Southeast Asia.

    To balance its interests, China also sells weapons to Burma’s military.

    Zarni says that, with Burma’s economy opening up, Beijing’s attention is squarely fixed on officials in the capital.

    “China, when it suits its interests, will pressure local ethnic armed groups, especially Wa, and you know I think Kachin as well," he said. "But I don’t know to what extent their efforts have been constructive or slanted in favor of the Burmese interests, because, at this point, China is fishing the bigger fish in Naypyidaw rather than fishing along the border with the local ethnic groups."

    An end to fighting with the rebels is one of the key demands of Western powers for improving relations with Burma after years of punishing economic sanctions.

    The government has so far made deals with, among others, the Wa, the Karenni, the Shan, the Chin, and an historic ceasefire with the Karen, who have fought against Burma’s military for six decades.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora