News / Asia

Burma Conflict Tests China’s Policy of Non-Interference

A minority Kachin holds up an image showing Kachin refugees in northern Burma during a protest in front of Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 11, 2013.
A minority Kachin holds up an image showing Kachin refugees in northern Burma during a protest in front of Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 11, 2013.
Fighting in the north of Burma between the military and the Kachin Independence Army is becoming increasingly intense and deadly.

The ongoing violence is not only a major challenge for the administration of Burmese President Thein Sein, but a growing concern for Beijing, as the conflict unfolds on doorstep of the China's southern Yunnan province.

Kachin rebels say over the past few days, Burmese government launched mortar attacks on the town of Laiza, which is located near the Chinese border. According to reports, the attacks killed at least three civilians and injured several others.

Late last week, Kachin living on both sides of the border, some in the Chinese town of Nabang and others in Laiza, rallied at a border checkpoint to protest the ongoing strife. Pictures that were posted online, showed protesters on the Burmese side holding up placards and Kachin in China standing, some with their arms folded, in silent protest.

The Kachin rebels and Burma’s government had managed to maintain a cease-fire until about 18 months ago, when fighting resumed. In recent weeks, Burmese troops have stepped up its intensity in the north of the country, using air power and artillery, turning Laiza into a war zone.

Ian Storey, a security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, says China is clearly concerned about the conflict because it is taking place so close to its border.

"China does not want to see conflict and instability along its border for several reasons," he said. "One is that conflicts tend to [cause] an outpouring of refugees into Yunnan province. We have seen this with other conflicts in Burma. And also because there are a large number of PRC [Chinese] nationals who live on the other side of the border in Myanmar that are conducting business."

China has long prided itself on what it calls its non-interference approach to diplomacy.  Some Chinese analysts say that, although the policy is generally good, it could end up hurting China in the case of what is going on in Burma.

Du Jifeng, a Southeast Asia policy analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that if China does not take a more active role the conflict might get worse.

Du says that, in addition to setting up a place for the two sides to meet, China could try to actively seek a compromise that both parties can agree on and will respect. He adds that China could also use less restraint when the Burmese government infringes on its airspace and territorial rights.

China has offered to host talks between the two sides in the nearby Chinese town of Ruili to try to broker a peace agreement. But as the conflict worsens, the likelihood of that happening remains unclear.

Ian Storey says China’s ability to broker a deal has its limits.

"I understand that in the past Chinese officials have participated as mediators. But at the end of the day it is really down to the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Organization to reach a resolution. China can try to facilitate that settlement, but it can't impose it on either of the parties," said Storey.

China has long been a key ally of Burma. But in recent years, the Burmese government has gradually begun to diversify its international portfolio and open links with Japan, the United States and the European Union.

Du says as Burma makes adjustments to its foreign policy and approach, China should do the same.

Du says that, although China has put great importance on working with Burma’s central government in the past, in the future it should interact more with city governments, other sectors and even those anti-government groups.

Analysts say that strengthening ties with minority groups, particularly at the local government level, could not only help the sides resolve the dispute, but ensure the conflict does not spread across the border as well.

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Comment Sorting
by: Joe from: USA
January 16, 2013 4:16 PM
China should definitely change its outdated "non-interference" foreign policy for its own good. Otherwise, it will be swallowed up by many aggressive countries around its borders (sea and land).
In Response

by: Naphetchun MaungSein from: California USA
January 17, 2013 4:05 PM
China's long standing policy and observance of non-interference in the internal affairs of Myanmar is a correct one. The time soon after Myanmar's independence from Britain in 1948, when the Chinese adopted "a doublicitous policy" of the Chinese Communist Party giving assistance to Burma Communist Party and the Central Government in Peking stating in bold face that the "Chinese government does not support the Burmese Communist Insurgency backfired and exposed for Asia and the rest of the world to witness was a disaster for China. Ne Win ordered all out assault on the BCP along the Chinese border as well as those along the Pegu Yomas where BCP chairman Than Tun was captured dead and the BCP forces supplied with arms and advisers from the PLA were routed and practically decimated never to recover.

The top BCP members like Ba Thein Tin, Kyaw Zaw, etc sought refuge in China and were given asylum quite openly. The WA armed group allied with the BCP abandoned their unholy alliance and sought peace with the Myanmar Military. The most recent critical event was the Kokang faction that made a serious miscalculation / misjudgment of Myanmar's seriousness in protecting it's territorial integrity and National Sovereignty and "pushed the envelope too far" beyond tolerable limits. This time it was Than Shwe and Maung Aye that ordered the Military to action and that Kokang faction was routed within a week by forces under the command of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, now the Commander-in-Chief. Over 35,000 refugees poured into China but the Kokang expectation of Chinese assistance did not materialize. The Chinese Communist Party and government of today fully underestand the consequences of and the cost it will have to bear is much too high to even consider interference. The Chinese Communist leaders of today are several generations apart from Mao Tse Dong, Chou En Lai, Chen Yi, etc and are more rational, realistic and pragmatic leaders capable of cool and objective decision-making for China. So, the probability of China abanddoning "non-interference in internal affairs of neighbors" is not likely to happen any time soon.

Naphetchun MaungSein

California, USA

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