Apparently, at some point, the Burmese generals feared the scope of their growing dependence on China and concerned into renewing relations with the USA, probably hoping to find a certain counterbalance to this dependence. They have done everything to please the Americans – put on civilian clothes, created a political party, held the elections, where their party gained a victory, released from the house arrest of the Nobel laureate, legendary Aung San Suu Kyi, asserted the multiparty system, and that is the most important thing – changed the foreign policy course from a pro-Chinese to a pro-American one.
Burmese army offensive in Kokang, during which at the cost of 130 soldiers death, Burmese army managed to capture the city of Lashio (Laozi) – the administrative center of Kokang – is an evidence of such changes. In order to show the importance of their victory, Burmese military reported that on the side of the so-called Kokang separatists Chinese citizens from among retired military were fighting.
No doubt that these tragic events are associated with the significant intensification of US-Burmese relations, when senior US administration officials, including President Obama himself, regularly visit Rangoon. Thanks to the “new friends”, Burmese generals felt confident in their abilities. Today, they captured the entire area of Kokang, imposed the state of emergency and do their best to show that, supported by the new ally, they are not afraid of hard-line response from China. In addition, their vigorous anti-Chinese activity is also associated with the fact that they try to show for the new patrons, that: not an old ally of America – Democratic leader and Nobel laureate – Aung San Suu Kyi, but it is them who will be the best friends of Washington. Their hopes are not so groundless, as the Burmese military is now characterized in the American press positively, as friends of democracy, ready to learn from the USA.
And why should not Americans support them, when they actually insert the country into the anti-Chinese bloc knocked together by the Americans, and conduce to actualization of the problems at the border with Myanmar, which are very sensitive to Beijing?
China’s response to fighting in Kokang at first was restrained, but later – rather stiff. First, Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Hua Chunying at a press conference in Beijing, said that “because of the panic in Burma a part of the citizens in this country fled from the boundary regions to China and stressed that China is ready to timely do everything possible to ensure the stability of the China-Burma border”.
But thirty thousand Chinese refugees, who fled from the Burmese army to Chinese territory – is just one of the examples of the existing cooling of relations between the two countries. Prior to that, the Burmese authorities refused from construction by a Chinese company of an irrigation dam on the Irrawaddy, military cooperation was reduced. There is no doubt that the generals in Burma understand that their attacks in Kokang play into the hands of American politicians, who are keen to show their capabilities to Beijing to influence the policy of China. Yesterday they showed it in Hong Kong, where they almost turned the entire city upside-down with the “Umbrella Revolution”, and today with the conquest of Kokang, which is considered by many people in Beijing as part of Chinese territory captured in the era of the historical weakness of China by the British and integrated in their Burma colony.
Therefore, with the escalation of the conflict, especially after the accidental bombing of the Burmese aviation of the Chinese territory resulted in killing several peasants, the statements of the Chinese officials have tightened significantly. Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the PRC, General Fan Changlong in his telephone conversation with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Burma Min Aung Hlaing stated that “the military leadership of Burma must strictly control the actions of their own troops to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. Otherwise, China will take tough and decisive actions to protect its citizens and their property”. Fan Changlong urged the leadership of Burma to conduct a detailed investigation into the incident, to punish the guilty and to apologize and pay compensation to the families of the victims. Rigidity of the Chinese officials may be associated with the fact that on the territory of Kokang there are the graves of nearly two thousand Chinese soldiers killed during the fight with the Japanese invasion in Burma in 1942, which feat is well remembered in China.
Today, after the recent meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of China and Burma, the conflict in Kokang has subsided a bit, but its reasons are not settled and till now the Burmese Minister of Information argues that a part of the rebel groups operates against the Burmese troops from the Chinese province of Yunnan. So far Burma does not accuse the Chinese army or central government of the support of the rebels, but China is already preparing preventive measures and determines the route of the New Silk Road through Laos and Thailand bypassing Burma. But the main thing is that the key Chinese economic project on pumping oil from the Burmese ports to Yunanan, under which just on January 30, 2015 on Madey Island (Myanmar), off the northwest coast of Burma, the port for unloading oil tankers was officially put into operation, was in a very undefined state. In fact, Americans do not need China to be engaged in oil and gas supplies without their control. Burmese generals have just been executing this political order.
Dmitry Mosyakov – Professor, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Director of the Centre for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine“New Eastern Outlook”.