Myanmar: China Is Not Amused


July 26, 2015: The government has openly declared that it will cooperate with India to prevent Indian rebel groups from establishing bases inside Burma. Since early June the army has sent several thousand additional troops to the 1,643 kilometer long Indian border. Burma admits it is responsible for detecting and expelling these illegal visitors but most of the border area is thinly populated forests and mountains and it is very difficult to get troops into the area and very expensive to support them as they seek out and deal with any intruders.  The cooperation with India goes beyond sharing intelligence and coordinating security operations on both sides of the border. India has also, since June, sent a few more battalions to areas the rebels seem to prefer to cross at and increased patrols on the Indian side of the border. This makes it more difficult for the rebels to move to their Burma sanctuaries but does not stop them. Because of the recent (June 4 th ) rebel ambush inside India, by Indian rebels using Burmese bases, the Burmese army will use Indian intelligence on routes the rebels are using to cross the border and have Burmese troops watch and block these routes. Getting all the Burmese reinforcements in place has largely been completed.

Elsewhere in the north the fighting between tribal rebels and the army has died down but not stopped. The army is trying to force rebels to negotiate by blocking supplies from reaching some tribal refugees. This is usually fixed once the blockade gets some publicity but there are so many incidents like this up there that the media frequently ignores it. Plus that journalists are not welcomed by the rebels (because of the many illegal activities they use to finance their resistance) or the army (which often commits illegal, or at least immoral, acts).

July 23, 2015: China protested the recent court case that sent 153 Chinese citizens to jail for life because they were convicted of illegal logging. As a practical matter this means 20 years in prison. Most of those going to prison were arrested earlier in the year. Another three Chinese were given shorter sentences. This prosecution was very popular with most Burmese but upset a lot of long-standing (and illegal) operations in the north. Many of the gangsters are foreigners and most of those are Chinese. Some of these gangs have political allies back in China where the prosecution of Chinese loggers is seen as a sign of disrespect. For thousands of years China has been the “big brother” in East Asia and all other states are “little brothers” who must behave accordingly and not do anything to make big brother look bad. Prosecuting Chinese gangsters on a large scale makes big brother unhappy. There's a lot of illegal logging going on along the border up north and until recently arrests for this were rare and usually because someone did not pay bribes to the right people. The loggers operate openly and on a scale that can easily be seen from aerial (or satellite) photographs. This involves the use of bulldozers (for creating roads) and heavy trucks (to carry out the logs), as well as heavy duty saws and the disappearance of a lot of trees. Much, if not most, of the illegal logging is run by Chinese. This resulted in growing Burmese anger at Chinese business practices. Many ordinary Burmese resent illegal Chinese logging in the heavily forested north. This logging is part of decades of Chinese efforts to take control, legally or otherwise, of natural resources in northern Burma. To further this effort China has been quietly interfering in internal disputes and backing several of the rebellious tribes up there. For example, China is helping arm and finance some of these tribes. To protect the illegal lumber trade China has long helped out the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) in northern Kachin state. The Kachin rebels survive by “taxing” illegal mining and logging, something that Burmese government officials would continue doing, but with less restraint, if the rebels disappeared. Another example is the Wa rebels (UWSA or United Wa State Army) who live in Shan state near the Chinese border. In Shan state the UWSA is a major factor and the Burmese army tends to respect UWSA military capabilities. Half the tribal militiamen in the far north belong to the UWSA, which has over 20,000 armed men operating along the Chinese border. The Wa are ethnic (Han) Chinese, and many other Wa live across the border in China. The Chinese have made it clear to the Burmese government that any attack on the Wa would not be appreciated and have pressured the Burmese on behalf of the Wa. To underscore that support earlier this year China supplied the UWSA with some 122mm towed howitzers (firing 21 kg shells up to 15 kilometers) and HJ-8 ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). The HJ-8 is nearly identical to the American TOW 2 in size, weight, range. That means a 19 kg (42 pounds) missile with a 3.9 kg (8.6 pound) warhead and a range of 4,000 meters. This is the first time any of the tribal rebels have had such weapons.

July 20, 2015: The commander of the army said the military would respect the outcome of the November elections, even it meant a new government that wanted to curb the power of the military. This was in response to growing domestic and foreign pressure on the military to give up the veto power it has under the new constitution. The generals have used this to “protect their interests.” This has included blocking “hostile” (anti-military) candidates from running for president or attempts by parliament to curb military power. This is all about how the 2008 constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in parliament and requires 75 percent of the votes in parliament to get the constitution changed. Many of the generals are reluctant to allow any changes because so many Burmese are still angry at the decades of bad behavior by the military governments. Without some control over the government the generals who ran the military dictatorship (and many of their subordinates) could be prosecuted for their crimes. The generals are under a lot of pressure over the constitutional reform issue. Burmese businessmen and foreign investors also back a reduction of military control, mainly because the military is the main source of the widespread corruption that cripples the economy.

July 17, 2015: In the north (Shan state) a tip from locals led police to over half a ton of chemicals hidden outside a monastery near the Thai border. The chemicals turned out to be worth over two million dollars and were used to manufacture methamphetamine. A smuggler or local drug gang had apparently brought them up the Mekong River from Vietnam and hid them for later pick up and movement to the hills were portable labs produce the meth pills (“yaba”) that have become a major source of income for the tribal rebels and a growing number of criminal gangs. Locals reported that they saw men in uniform unload the sacks of chemicals from a vehicle, but it was unclear if the uniforms were those the army or tribal rebels wore. Most of the rebels earn so much money from their various illegal enterprises that they can buy uniforms, weapons and other military equipment for their armed members.

July 15, 2015: China, Thailand and Burma have agreed to build a 7,000 megawatt hydroelectric dam on the Salween River in eastern Burma. China and Thailand will each cover 40 percent of the cost and Burma the other 20 percent. Burma will get ten percent of the electricity and Thailand will buy the rest. The dam and hydroelectric facilities will take five years to build but tribal opposition to such projects may delay or derail the project.  China is planning to build several hydroelectric dams along the Salween River further north, before the river crosses the border into Burma. The 2,800 kilometer long Salween starts in a Tibetan glacier and more than half its length is in China. Much of the remainder is in Burma before it enters Thailand and empties into the Andaman Sea.

July 13, 2015: In the north (Shan State) KIA (Kachin) rebels attacked an army patrol with rockets and remotely controlled bombs. This killed one civilian and wounded two others. The soldiers went after the attackers, killing one of them and capturing some of their equipment. Elsewhere in Shan State a hundred people fled their village after it was reportedly shelled. Police sent to investigate found that one man was killed and two wounded by a landmine, not artillery or mortar shells. There has been fighting in the area between soldiers and the KIA.

July 5, 2015: In the north (Shan State) an army outpost was attacked before dawn, leaving two soldiers dead and another wounded (by an explosive device and gunfire). The attackers were not identified but there had been fighting with the KIA and the Shan State Army in the area.



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