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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid