Is China now involved?

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Soldiers from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army are currently fighting against the military junta in northern Myanmar (archive image) © AFP

In Myanmar, fighting between rebels and the military is increasingly fierce, especially on the border with China. Beijing is now responding with military maneuvers.

Fierce fighting between the military junta and resistance groups has raged in Myanmar for months. Now the conflict that erupted after the military coup on February 1 2021 is increasingly spreading to neighboring Southeast Asian countries. China in particular, which shares a 2,100-kilometre border with Myanmar, is increasingly restless; Last weekend, Beijing announced military exercises lasting several days in the border region. Officially, this is a routine maneuver. According to observers, this is clearly a reaction to changes in the situation in the border area.

There has been heavy fighting again since October 27, which is why the rebels called it “Operation 1027”. On the one hand, there is a military junta that is isolated by the West and subject to sanctions. On the other hand, there are three resistance groups that have joined together to form the so-called “Fraternal Alliance” and, according to their own statements, aim to “eliminate the oppressive military dictatorship.”

Myanmar rebels cross the border with China

The rebel alliance has celebrated major successes in recent days. According to media reports, one of the groups took over the border China – after 120 trucks coming to the country from China caught fire nearby the previous week. The Myanmar government then spoke of “acts of terrorism”. In the city of Laukkai, also close to China, at least ten people were reported killed in a recent rocket attack, which the government and rebels blamed on each other. The rebels say they control more than 224 military junta bases and seven towns in northern Shan State alone.

China is caught between two seats in the conflict. Beijing maintains good relations with the military junta and supplies weapons to the generals; Myanmar is also an important partner in China’s “New Silk Road” infrastructure project. But China also has good relations with some rebel groups in Shan State since they were involved in communist insurgencies in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, China wants to avoid the arrival of refugees from Myanmar because of the ongoing conflict. said analyst Richard Horsey of the US Crisis Group. Horsey was referring to events that occurred in the spring of 2015, when 50,000 people fled to China following clashes between the army and rebels. According to the UN, around two million people are currently on the run in Myanmar and thousands more have fled the country.

The conflict area in northern Myanmar is a haven for Chinese fraud gangs

At the same time, Beijing appears to hope the rebels will take action against illegal fraud centers in the Kokang region, a self-governing zone on the border with China. Chinese gangs detain thousands of people from China and Southeast Asia there. Criminals force them to financially defraud people in the West, as well as in China itself, through fake online profiles, for example on dating sites. “As these illegal activities have spread across Southeast Asia in recent years, curbing them has become an important priority for Beijing,” Horsey said.

Officially, Beijing is being cautious. All parties are asked to “put people’s welfare first, stop fighting as quickly as possible, resolve differences through dialogue and consultation, and prevent the situation from getting worse,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said recently.

Myanmar: Uprisings across the country

It’s not just escalation on the border with China that is likely to be a headache for the military junta. The uprising was now reported from all over the country, alienating the media Irawaddy people spoke of “an estimated 20,000 resistance fighters”. According to estimates by Western experts, there are 70,000 junta troops ready to act.

Only in mid-November did another front open in the west of the country, in Rakhine State, not far from the border with Bangladesh. On November 13, the Arakan Army (AA) attacked positions in the area, breaking an informal ceasefire with the junta that had previously been held for about a year. Crisis Group analyst Richard Horsey called it a “very important” development, “because large-scale fighting there would mean greater pressure on militaries elsewhere.” In an interview with Irawaddy people One AA commander said the junta was facing “extinction” in Rakhine State. This cannot be independently verified.

India is concerned about fighting along the border with Myanmar

Clashes also occurred on the border with India. Rebel groups have reportedly taken over several towns there and thousands of people are said to have fled to India. The military appears to have lost control of the town of Rihkhawdar, which borders the Indian state of Mizoram; Fighting was also said to have occurred in Sagaing State in the north. The Indian government is “deeply concerned about similar incidents near our borders,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. The government in New Delhi has so far supported the junta and supported the military, including by supplying weapons, raw materials and multipurpose items that can be used for both civil and military purposes.

Considering many things, the President of Myanmar, General Myint Swe, who was appointed by the junta, called for the country’s national unity. As early as mid-November, he warned of Myanmar’s disintegration: “If the government does not effectively deal with incidents in the border region, then the country will split into several parts,” he said. According to the junta’s hidden message, only a strong military can maintain the unity of the country. But the willingness of many soldiers and much of the civilian population to continue supporting the military appears to be waning.

Ambrose Fernandez

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