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CHINA IS PLAYING MYANMAR GROUND

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For the majority of Myanmar people, China’s support for the former military regime prevented any meaningful change in the governance, and a lack of progress towards democracy, serving only to strengthen the repressive measures of the military regime.China’s state-owned companies that invest in Myanmar rarely care about the environmental and social impact of their business practices. They also have a poor record of corporate social responsibility.Chinese firms in the resource extraction sector have exploited Myanmar natural resources without any proper consultation process with the local people, or their consent. Myanmar people have a bad impression of Chinese products. Some people make fun of Chinese equipment as being “tayokeset tayet-soke” (“Chinese machine; broken in a day”). Food products imported from China are considered to be of a poor standard of hygiene. China’s investment into joint ventures with Myanmar’s state/military-owned companies is a topic of great controversy and dissatisfaction among the people of Myanmar.

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CHINA IS PLAYING MYANMAR GROUND

  1. 1. 3/16/2017 Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’ https://www.irrawaddy.com/from­the­archive/bertil­lintner­china­is­the­most­important­foreign­player­in­the­peace­process­2.html 1/12 From the Archive Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’
  2. 2. 3/16/2017 Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’ https://www.irrawaddy.com/from­the­archive/bertil­lintner­china­is­the­most­important­foreign­player­in­the­peace­process­2.html 2/12 By THE IRRAWADDY 15 March 2017 China has long had interests in neighboring Burma and will play an ongoing role as the peace process continues. Beijing says it supports internal peace in Burma but holds onto its leverage and links to ethnic armed groups including the Wa and Kokang on the border. China’s Special Envoy of Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang has met with both Burma Army and Northern Alliance representatives, and on Tuesday requested that the Northern Alliance cease fighting with the Burma Army during a meeting in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province. The Irrawaddy revisits this article from 2016 about China’s ongoing interests in Burma. It’s complicated: In an interview with The Irrawaddy, longtime Burma expert Bertil Lintner assesses the many interests at play during State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China on Wednesday. As a Burmese government delegation led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi leaves for a state visit to China, what can the Burmese expect from this trip?  Bertil Lintner pictured in Rangoon in 2016. / The Irrawaddy
  3. 3. 3/16/2017 Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’ https://www.irrawaddy.com/from­the­archive/bertil­lintner­china­is­the­most­important­foreign­player­in­the­peace­process­2.html 3/12 It is quite possible that China would want to restart the Myitsone project, but that would be political suicide for any Burmese government. If China wants to improve its tarnished image in Burma, it should drop Myitsone altogether, and also make a public announcement to that effect. The Burmese have always been concerned about China interfering in Burma’s internal affairs. In the North, China continues to support ethnic rebels including the Wa and Kokang. At the last ethnic summit in Mai Ja Yang, the Chinese envoy said that it supports and backs all forces working to achieve internal peace in Burma. It seems Beijing wants to see more stability along the border. It is important to remember that China, not some Western, self-appointed peacemakers and interlocutors, is the most important foreign player in the peace process. China wants peace and stability along the border, but it will not give up the leverage it has inside Burma by severing ties with the UWSA [United Wa State Army], the MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army], the NDAA [National Democratic Alliance Army, also known as the Mongla Group] and other ethnic armed organizations. China’s relations with those groups gives it bargaining chips, and a much stronger position in the peace process than any Norwegian, Swiss or Australian entity could ever hope for. Do you think China is more pragmatic in dealing with Suu Kyi? In the past, Beijing officials reportedly complained about Burmese generals’ intransigence and corruption. Can you tell whether Suu Kyi and President Xi Jinping are prepared to turn a new page? What are the key challenges in improving ties? It is obvious that China, at least for the time being, seems more comfortable dealing with Suu Kyi than the Tatmadaw, which is eager to re-establish military-to-military relations with the West in order to lessen the dependence on China. But at the same time, China knows that the military, not the elected government, is the country’s most powerful institution. The military controls the Defense, Home and Border Affairs ministries, and the Tatmadaw is an autonomous institution that takes orders from the commander-in-chief, not the president or the state counselor. China would have to play a delicate balancing act here, and, perhaps, even play the government against the military.
  4. 4. 3/16/2017 Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’ https://www.irrawaddy.com/from­the­archive/bertil­lintner­china­is­the­most­important­foreign­player­in­the­peace­process­2.html 4/12 How do you see China evaluating and viewing the substantial rise of Western influence in Burma? Beijing seemed to be caught off guard when the country began opening up in 2011 and 2012. But since last year, it has been more aggressively engaging Burma and has launched more public relations offensives, inviting opposition members—including Suu Kyi—to Beijing. Last week we saw Song Tao, the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China meet almost every key leader in Burma. China is no doubt worried about Western inroads into Burma, especially the possibility of military-to-military relations with the US, which was suggested by William C. Dickey, ex defense attaché to Burma, in a recent article. Dickey stated that “moves by other Western as well as Asian countries to develop bilateral military ties with Myanmar suggest it is time for the US to change its approach and actively assist in transforming the country’s armed forces—just as Washington has successfully done with other Southeast Asian military forces.” Many would argue that the US has a very poor record of transforming its allied military forces into more democratic institutions, just look at Thailand, Egypt and Turkey.Although Dickey doesn’t mention it, it is clear to any observer that he is talking about getting Burma away from its hitherto heavy dependence on China. Regional security issues, not human rights and democracy, are at the top of Pentagon’s priorities in the region. Western governments, including the US, usually take the moral high ground by maintaining sanctions and making statements on human rights issues. But it seems Beijing is more pragmatic and more focused on not losing its important geopolitical strategic partner and business interests at all costs. Who is going to be winner in this so-called “great game” over Burma in the end? Although human rights are not the most important issue for the US, it can’t ignore such concerns and it has to raise objections if human rights are being violated. China has no such problem, and would not risk losing the influence it still has in Burma because of any human rights issue. That’s a severe dilemma for the US and the West. How do you see Suu Kyi rebalancing Burma’s foreign policy with rest of Asia and beyond, as she has been seen as pro-West in the past? She once said that she wants to make friends with the rest of the world. It remains to be seen how she, as Burma’s foreign minister, is going to balance relations with China and Japan and the West. But one has to remember that China is an immediate neighbor with vital strategic interests in Burma. The US, and even Japan, are
  5. 5. 3/16/2017 Bertil Lintner: ‘China is the Most Important Foreign Player in the Peace Process’ https://www.irrawaddy.com/from­the­archive/bertil­lintner­china­is­the­most­important­foreign­player­in­the­peace­process­2.html 5/12 far away. It would be impossible for any government in Burma to ignore the importance of China. Aside from controversial Myitsone project, the oil and gas pipeline and proposed rail link between Sittwe and Yunnan is much more important. With it, China will gain access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. To China, Burma will serve as a geo-political strategic buffer zone. Do you see India and Japan as major players in the future to counter China’s comprehensive strategic ambition? Absolutely, and we can see how the prime ministers of the two countries, Shinzo Abe in Japan and Narendra Modi in India, are becoming close friends and allies. What they have in common is concern over the rise of China. India has long considered the Indian Ocean their “lake,” and do not want China to establish footholds there. Japan is worried about China’s increasingly assertive policies in the entire region.   Topics: China, Foreign Relations, Peace Process The Irrawaddy ... Business ‘No Scope for Complacency’ as Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Reveals 2017 Findings
  6. 6. 3/16/2017 Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Myanmar? https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis­china­interfering­ethnic­politics­burma.html 1/5 Burma Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Burma? By SAW YAN NAING 15 March 2017 CHIANG MAI, Thailand — An alliance of ethnic armed organizations, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), says that China “is interfering to some extent” in ethnic politics in Burma, particularly regarding the peace process. The comment came after three days of emergency meetings in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in which a spokesperson for the UNFC, Nai Hong Sar, said that both ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and the Burma Army would face “greater challenges” if they keep trying to solve the country’s decades-long conflict by using military means.  Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping (R) lead their delegations in a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, on August 19, 2016. / Reuters
  7. 7. 3/16/2017 Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Myanmar? https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis­china­interfering­ethnic­politics­burma.html 2/5 “We don’t believe that military means can solve problems. That’s why we are trying to solve them with political means. Problems are emerging. China is now interfering to some extent [with the peace process],” Nai Hong Sar told reporters after the Chiang Mai meetings. Emphasizing the ongoing fighting in northern Burma launched by the Northern Alliance, a coalition of four ethnic armed groups including the UNFC’s chair—the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—Nai Hong Sar said that greater problems can be expected if both sides rely on military action to address what he sees as political issues. This, he said, could potentially worsen with Chinese interference, he added. Yet observers believe that the Northern Alliance—which consists of the KIO, the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—is being supported by the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA). China has been known to provide military supplies to the UWSA, seen by many as the most powerful ethnic armed organization in Burma, with estimates of 30,000 well- equipped troops. The organization is thought to be closely monitored by Beijing senior officials and diplomats. Sources in northern Burma also say that China is eager to demonstrate the importance of its role in the peace process. Recently, Chinese authorities have become more active in this regard, attending peace talks, conferences, and meeting with the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups. In January, China’s Special Envoy of Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang met with both the Burma Army and Northern Alliance representatives separately, and requested that fighting near the Sino-Burmese border be halted during the Chinese Lunar New Year. U Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst familiar with ethnic affairs on the China-Burma border said that Sun Guoxiang is reportedly pressuring members of the Northern Alliance, and the UWSA, to sign Burma’s controversial nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). “He [Sun Guoxiang] wants all ethnic armed organizations to sign the NCA, including the UWSA. He is supportive of the NCA. It is kind of interfering [with the peace process]. But, there are some ethnic groups who don’t want to sign the agreement,” said U Maung Maung Soe.
  8. 8. 3/16/2017 Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Myanmar? https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis­china­interfering­ethnic­politics­burma.html 3/5 The Arakan Army’s military chief, Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing, told The Irrawaddy in an interview in January that Sun Guoxiang had informed him that the Burmese government was open to talking with the AA. “We met Sun Guoxiang on Jan. 19, and he conveyed a message that [the Burmese government] was ready for talks. As far as I understood, it was as though he said that the Burma Army chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] wanted us to join talks,” said Tun Myat Naing. Sun Guoxiang also met with representatives of the KIO, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) in Kunming in February, where they discussed China’s role in the peace process; both the KNU and the RCSS are NCA signatories. Khuensai Jaiyen, director of the Chiang Mai-based Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue and longtime ethnic affairs adviser, told The Irrawaddy that Sun Guoxiang told representatives of the RCSS in Kunming that he doesn’t want people to forget that China was an international witness to the NCA signing in 2015. “He [Sun Guoxiang] raised five points. Firstly, he said, [China] does not act as a judge in deciding who is right or wrong in Burma’s peace process.’ Secondly, he wants all [respective forces] to participate in the peace process. Thirdly, he wants all forces to sign the NCA. Fourthly, he, won’t force anyone to sign the NCA,” said Jaiyen, who also met Sun Guoxiang alongside RCSS representatives in Kunming. “Lastly, he said, ‘we [the Chinese observers] don’t want it to be forgotten that we also signed as a witness during the NCA ceremony in 2015,” said Jaiyen. Jaiyen also suggested that China is playing a political game in Burma in accordance with the emerging political landscape. China’s first priority is its own national interests, he added, pointing out that it would deal with both the Burmese government and other concerned actors in ways which might benefit its own administration. Quoting a Chinese academic who visited Chiang Mai recently, Jaiyen said that the individual had highlighted how Burma has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, particularly regarding its range of allies. “In 1980-90, China was the sole friend of Burma. At that time, China was capable of forcing the Wa and Kachin to sign ceasefires. But, now it is not like that anymore—
  9. 9. 3/16/2017 Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Myanmar? https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis­china­interfering­ethnic­politics­burma.html 4/5 Burma has gotten more friends. So, it is questionable whether Burma still has a real pauk-paw [brotherhood] with China,” Jaiyen explained. “Since Burma is not like it was in the era of the 1980s and 90s it is not time to force all [ethnic groups] to sign [NCA] at this moment,” he added. A source close to the now-abolished Myanmar Peace Center said that Chinese authorities and diplomats have often quietly met with leaders of ethnic armed groups in Rangoon, Naypyidaw, Chiang Mai and on the China-Burma border in order to monitor their activities and discuss the peace process. Veteran journalist Bertil Lintner told The Irrawaddy that Burma has long been concerned about China interfering in its internal affairs. “China has managed to push all the foreign ‘peacemakers’ out of the game and become the main player in dealings between Burmese government, the military and the ethnic armed groups,” said Lintner. “It is clear that the Chinese are behind the UWSA, which is setting the agenda and emerging as the most important of the ethnic armed groups. This is not surprising because, as the Chinese see it, they have important strategic and geopolitical interests in Burma which they want to defend,” he added. “Therefore, also as the Chinese see it, they cannot ‘hand over’ Burma to the West and Western interests,” said Lintner. In early February, Chinese ambassador to Burma, Hong Liang, told the Myanmar News Agency, a state-run media outlet, that it remained “essential for Sino-Myanmar co- operation to help Myanmar to gain peace, stability and development.” He also urged all ethnic armed groups to sign the NCA. “We will support to the best of our ability to push forces in the process of Myanmar Peace. We firmly believe that peace and national reconciliation can succeed through such meetings for dialogue,” he was quoted as saying. Topics: China, Conflict, Ethnic Issues, Foreign Relations, Peace Process
  10. 10. 3/16/2017 Analysis: Is China ‘Interfering’ in Ethnic Politics in Myanmar? https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis­china­interfering­ethnic­politics­burma.html 5/5 Saw Yan Naing The Irrawaddy Saw Yan Naing is Senior Reporter at the English edition of The Irrawaddy.

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