News / Asia

With Burma in Mind, China Quietly Supports Wa Rebels

Armed soldiers from Burma's United Wa State Army shown riding a vehicle in neighboring China's border town of Mangka, September 3, 2009.
Armed soldiers from Burma's United Wa State Army shown riding a vehicle in neighboring China's border town of Mangka, September 3, 2009.
Daniel Schearf
While Burma's military steps up battles against Kachin rebels along the border with China, security analysts say Beijing has been quietly selling advanced weapons to another insurgent group on its border, the United Wa State Army.  The Wa are the largest militia in Burma and considered the biggest narcotics dealing organization in Southeast Asia. 
Burma's military airstrikes and mortar attacks on Kachin rebels in recent weeks raised international concerns about the government's peace efforts. The heavy fighting in Burma's north is the worst since a 17-year cease-fire with the Kachin Independence Army broke down in 2011.
But while China calls for military restraint in Kachin state, security analysts say Beijing has been secretly arming another rebel group, the United Wa State Army.
In a December report, IHS Jane's Intelligence Review says China last year provided the Wa with advanced weapons to build up their defenses. The transfers included surface to air missiles and, for the first time, at least 12 armored vehicles the report refers to as "tank destroyers."
Thailand-based security analyst and author of the report, Anthony Davis, said Beijing is trying to balance historic camaraderie with the Wa and its relations with Burmese authorities.  
"The Chinese cannot afford to ignore the ethnic forces along their border, nor at the same time can they afford to ignore the central government," Davis said. "Is that to say that China is directly supplying that equipment? No, it's not. Clearly the supplier of that equipment is known to senior elements in the government, but that is not to say that they are directly involved in financing. They need to maintain a degree of deniability here," he said.
China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the IHS Jane's Intelligence Review report.
The Wa are Burma's largest rebel group, estimated at up to 30,000 full and part-time fighters.  Despite its professed policy of non-interference, military analysts say China has long been the largest supplier of weapons to the Wa, albeit unofficially.

The Wa were one of several ethnic militias that formed after the 1989 breakup of the Burmese Communist Party.

Beijing directly supported the communists and maintained relations with the newly formed rebel groups.
Yale University Ph. D. candidate Josh Gordon said China has been particularly close with the Wa, who speak Chinese. The Wa are more or less a proxy of China, said Gordon.

"You'll use Chinese money, Chinese cell phones, Chinese electricity for in large part, where there is electricity in the urban areas, and have connection to the Chinese Internet," he said.
Burma signed a cease-fire with the Wa in the 1990s and allowed them to govern their own territory in northeastern Shan state. They turned it into one of Asia's largest methamphetamine production bases and are considered the region's largest drug-dealing organization.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2011 put most-wanted pictures of Wa leader Wei Hsueh Kang in Thailand's entertainment venues.
Despite the recent escalation in Chinese weapons transfers to the Wa, Davis said Beijing is not trying to destabilize the border area. Instead, China is sending a message to Burmese authorities not to even think about attempting in Wa territory what they are doing in Kachin state where local groups are fighting Burmese forces, he said.
"The Chinese are not stoking fires in Northern Burma.  By reinforcing the Wa they are reinforcing a military deterrent.  If you like, they are reinforcing peace and stability which has existed for the last 20 years in a manner that's been favorable to China."
During past decades of military rule and western sanctions, China held great sway over Burma and its natural resources. But since Burma's reform-minded President Thein Sein took office, and sanctions were suspended, China's influence is being thrown off balance.
Davis said the weapons tranfers to the Wa appear to be China responding to its political reversals.
Ye Htut, a spokesman for Burma's president, declined to comment on the report by IHS Jane's Intelligence Review.
"We don't have any information on that," he said. "But, every time the Chinese government assures us they will not interfere in our internal affairs.  So we accept their assurance."
China this month sent a high-level military delegation to Burma to discuss border security issues and the fighting in Kachin state.  The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the Chinese agreed not to interfere with Burma's internal problems.

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Comment Sorting
by: Tun Tun Oo from: Yangon
January 26, 2013 1:10 AM
Now, Myanmar Tatmadaw(armed forces) has stopped its operations in Kachin State and government also offered for the peaceful negotiations. But KIA forces are still making attacks on Tatmadaw and capturing innocent local peoples and force them to serve as KIA troops. I think there may be many persons who want Kachin State to be battle field for their benefit and instigating behind the KIA.

by: Wangchuk from: NYC
January 25, 2013 5:03 PM
The PRC is the biggest hypocrite. When the US or EU or UN merely criticize China for its human rights violations in Tibet & Xinjiang, the CCP says they are interfering in China's "internal affairs." Yet here is a case where the PRC is interfering directly in Burma's internal affairs by supplying weapons to a rebel group operating within Burma's borders. For the PRC, it's do as a I say, not as I do.
In Response

by: Ian from: USA
January 27, 2013 3:38 PM
I would like to ask Mour a question regarding his statement:
" the Burmese who interfere in China "
Which chinese ethnic rebel group inside China's border whom the Burmese instigate to rise up against bejing government or demand to be separate from China .
Please name one chinese province that the burmese manipulate .
I am quite sure that The communist government in China had use ethnic chinese in other countries in the past for its own gains (regardless of the consequence that these people may have to face when the host countries decide to retaliate )
One example is Bejing supported the Khmer rouge leaderships (almost all of them are ethnic chinese) who commited genocide in Cambodia ( that was the reason they did not hesitate to kill one third of the cambodians)
In Response

by: Mour
January 26, 2013 11:56 AM
The west complained when China allegedly ignored human rights being broken by the Burmese government. Now the west complains about China supporting ethnic minority rebels against the Burmese government. The burmese government under Ne Win also massacred ethnic Chinese in the 1960s and attacked ethnic kokang chinese in 2009. Its the burmese who interfere in China,
In Response

by: Banlas from: Asia
January 26, 2013 8:21 AM
China, a hypocrite for supporting the rebel in Burma, Please wake up from your hallucination that the honor for the biggest hypocrite should go to UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. U.S has been nurturing and supporting all kinds of terrorists in Middle East, Asia (including the exile Tibetans), Africa, Latin American for ages.
In Response

by: Paris Tun from: Myanmar
January 26, 2013 8:08 AM
We ( Burmese people) can testify to the fact that Chinese Communist regime is the most shameless hypocrite in the world.Not only did they interfere in our affairs, but they also insult us by vetoing the release of our democratic leader Daw Su Kyi and other educated and outspoken political prisoners. By doing so, they effectively made us voiceless and powerless. I just want the world to know that the Communist regime stroke us with its evil hands and cruel enough that they never apologize for their behavior. The sad thing is the Chinese regime is "still" insulting people's rights and hopes by watering and feeding the poisonous trees, such as Kim Jung Un regime. That is the perfect insult on human liberty and rights.
I just hope that the educated Chinese middle class will tame the behavior of their blind and sick leaders.

by: Stefan from: Southeast Asia
January 25, 2013 12:02 PM
Trust your friendly neighbor, the Chinese. Thailand take note.
In Response

by: Niqqa Prairs from: The Mighty US
January 27, 2013 9:34 PM
Funny thing's that China has hosted the peace negotiation meetings between the two groups, while U.S on the other hand, has sent KIA equipments and ammunition. Ironic isn't it. People should really do more research before believe in a governmental funded media.

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