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China Stages Military Exercises Along Myanmar Border

FILE - Rebel soldiers patrol near a military base in the Kokang region of Myanmar, March 10, 2015.
FILE - Rebel soldiers patrol near a military base in the Kokang region of Myanmar, March 10, 2015.

China has launched live-fire air-ground training exercises along the China-Myanmar border, an area where Kokang rebels have been fighting Myanmar's army for months.

China’s Foreign and Defense ministries announced that the military exercises were taking place inside the country's Yunnan province.

The Global Times, under the auspices of the People's Daily, reported that the Chinese military provided precise coordinates of the area of the exercises but gave no clear indication of when the drill would end.

The newspaper said it would be contingent upon the situation and level of effectiveness on the ground. The Global Times called the drill “unusual” while stressing it was “a promised act to protect the safety and properties of the Chinese people.”

Eric Shin, coverage chief at Taiwan’s Defense International magazine, agreed.

“Isn’t it the goal of the People’s Liberation Army to protect its people, sovereignty and territories?” Shih asked. “The PLA has to have a drill at least to demonstrate to its people, especially after Myanmar has crossed the border multiple times to combat the rebels and its bombs were found within the Chinese border.”

June Dreyer, professor of political science at the University of Miami, told VOA only Beijing knows the true intentions of such a drill, which she read as a sign of deteriorating relations between the governments of China and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“Since [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi was freed, there have been a number of protests in Burma against Chinese development projects that the local people feel are impacting badly on them," she said. "Also, there are a number of people in Burma who resent so much Chinese economic presence in their country. Relations between the governments of Burma and China have not been as good as they used to be under the old military dictatorship.”

Cross-border bombings

In March, the conflict in Myanmar between the ethnic Chinese Kokang rebels and the Burmese army began spilling over into Yunnan, China. Two incidents of reported casualties and damage from bombings by the Burmese inside China drew a sharp reaction from Beijing.

Myanmar said the incidents were unintentional, but the Chinese have demanded Myanmar investigate the bombings, apologize and pay indemnities to the victims.

Some analysts believe Beijing may also be seeking to push to expand its power through the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea with neighboring countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Peter Huessy, senior fellow in national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, said, “The Chinese are sending signals, and the signals they are sending are: We are powerful, we are big, and no one should interfere with what we want to do, and that is unmistakable.”

However, Shih, the military expert from Taiwan, sees that as a bit farfetched. He stressed the two areas are fundamentally different.

“The U.S. and China are testing each other’s intentions on the South China Sea issues,” Shih said. “That is different from what has happened on the China and Myanmar borders. Chinese were killed from the Burmese bombs that fell onto the Chinese territories. If the PLA didn’t act on it, the Chinese government would fall short of satisfying its domestic public.”