Myanmar: China Sells Protection


May 11, 2018: International Moslem organizations are pressuring the UN to punish and pressure for its treatment of the Rohingya Moslems. One could make a case that the Burmese military colluded with Buddhist nationalists to drive the Rohingya out of the country, something that has been an unresolved issue since the British colonial government left in the late 1940s. China is blocking any action in the UN and elsewhere Moslems are more concerned about Islamic terrorism and the Shia-Sunni conflict Iran has created. Meanwhile, the Rohingya issue remains unresolved.

Because of the Rohingya stalemate neighboring Bangladesh now considers Burma its major foreign affairs problem. Islamic terrorism sponsored by Pakistan has been kept under control but the problems created by an independent military in neighboring Burma are getting worse. The military ran Burma from the 1960s until 2011, when it finally allowed elections to get out from growing international hostility (and sanctions). But like in Pakistan the Burmese military is still an independent (of government control) organization and it played a large role in forcing over 700,000 Burmese Moslems (Rohingya, Bengalis who had been in Burma before the British colonial government left the region in 1948) into Bangladesh. Burma, or at least the Burmese military and its Buddhist nationalist allies, do not want to take the Rohingya back. But that would leave Bangladesh with a huge refugee population that, even with foreign aid paying for the camps, would be nothing but trouble for Bangladesh.

The 700,000 Burmese Rohingya Moslem refugees in Bangladesh are stuck there and for what appears to be an extended period. The Burmese government insists that only validated Burmese residents will be allowed back and the verification process is stalled. Burma is approving less than ten percent of the names Bangladesh presents as authentic Burmese Rohingya. The repatriation back to Burma of was supposed to begin in January 2018 but continued army violence against Rohingya still in Burma made that impossible. Added to that were the administrative problems and so much more. Those Rohingya going back must do so voluntarily.

Back in Burma UN officials report that adequate preparations have not been made to handle a large scale return of Rohingya. A further complication is that those Rohingya willing to go back want to return to their homes and property. If their home was destroyed (as many were during the military violence) the returnees want an opportunity to rebuild and for the government to supply money and supplies to make that possible. That would be difficult because in many of the areas Rohingya fled from local officials have treated the former Rohingya property as “abandoned” and available or resale and reuse. Rohingya refugees are aware of this and will not return until the government clears up the property ownership issues. That happening is considered an impossible dream by all concerned. As a result many Rohingya refugees are seeking new homelands. Bangladesh is not considered a good candidate because the country is already crowded and poor and long the source of illegal migrants to other nations. At the moment Moslem refugees are a hard sell, even in Moslem countries. No one is willing to take a lot of Rohingya and Bangladesh does not like being stuck with these large refugee camps near the Burmese border. Because the Rohingya are Moslem most Moslem nations have been quick to condemn Burma and urge international efforts to force Burma to take back the Rohingya. That has not worked either, just like international pressure on Pakistan has not eliminated Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism.

Tribal Wars

There is still a lot of fighting in the tribal areas (especially Chin, Rakhine, Kachin and Karen states) and the army has quietly adopted more brutal and illegal (according to local and international law) tactics against the rebellious tribes. The soldiers are now using more force against the civilians (shooting at the refugees and preventing them from finding food and shelter). Soldiers will also use civilians as human shields and to do that are extra careful to keep credible witnesses (especially journalists) away from the scene of the crimes. In addition, the soldiers are more frequently killing unarmed tribal officials that the army considers (accurately or not) to be working with armed (and usually un-uniformed) tribal rebels. The army has been defying orders from government (or at least provincial) officials to halt these illegal practices.

The army, or at least some soldiers and officers, have always had some involvement in the illegal drug trade but now some soldiers are working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to smuggle drugs (mostly the methamphetamine pills produced in large quantities by some tribal rebel groups) from the border to the refugee camps and beyond. The drug smuggling pays well and the Rohingya refugees are broke. Some are willing to do just about anything to make some money so they can pay people smugglers to get them out of Bangladesh. That is expensive because no countries in the region are receptive to refugees and the best option if you can afford it, is to get smuggled to a Western nation, claim asylum or just settle down.

The Rohingya represent a minority of Burmese Moslems Most remaining Burmese Moslems (about 1.2 million) live far from the Bangladesh border and have been officially recognized as Burmese and Moslems for centuries. These Burmese Moslems still face some discrimination and persecution but no one disputes that fact that they are Burmese citizens and generally not a threat to the nation. The Rohingya were seen as different because they looked different (Bengalis are an Indo-European people while most Burmese have an East Asian appearance). The Rohingya also have ethnic and cultural links to Bangladesh and many are relatively (in the past century) migrants from Bangladesh. Throughout the region (South Asia contains about a quarter of the world population) there are several situation similar to what has happened to the Rohingya and some of these stateless peoples remain that way for generations.

In Closing

And then there’s some good news for Burma. According to a national survey, most Burmese believe living standards have increased considerably since democracy returned in 2011. The survey was able to reach over 90 percent of the population. Only in some tribal areas, and Rakhine State, where fighting is still going on, were not covered. There is still a lot of corruption and the radical Buddhist clerics are still encouraging hatred of the Rohingya. The army is still a power unto itself, some of the northern tribes are major producers of illegal drugs (especially meth) and China is still trying to buy some long-term control over the country. Aside from all that, the future looks promising.

May 10, 2018: Sometimes the rebels can do what the army does and go total outlaw. That is currently happening in the far north (Shan state) where two rival rebel groups, the SSPP (Shan State Progressive Party) and TNLA (Tang National Liberation Army), have been fighting for control of disputed territory. Over 500 villagers have fled their homes to avoid the shooting. In areas where the issue has been settled many villagers driven from their homes by the fighting are reluctant to return home because the rebels have a reputation for demanding payment from locals. The current fighting has been going on for more than two weeks but there have been few casualties among the tribal gunmen. Sometimes other tribal rebel groups are involved and the one group that tends to be involved much of the time is the TNLA.

May 8, 2018: Officials from China and Burma met to work out a police cooperation agreement that would make easier to detect, monitor and disrupt criminal activity that is common to both countries. This is mainly about keeping drugs, especially meth, out of China and to reduce smuggling in general as well as the growing incidence of Internet related crime on both sides of the border. In return for Burmese cooperation, China will help Burma in the UN and other international organizations.

May 7, 2018: In the northwest (Rakhine State) a soldier and two civilians were caught at a checkpoint with some methamphetamine pills and searches of homes found the three had $3.6 million worth of meth.

May 4, 2018: In the north (Kachin State) 17 jade miners died because of a landslide. There is more risk of this thing because unemployed jade miners become scavengers who scoured abandoned (because the owners felt there was not enough jade left to be worth extracting) jade mining sites. Some lucrative jade mines are shut because of legal problems and those sites have armed guards and police to provide security for the jade mines mainly to keep scavengers away. But many old mines that still have some jade left in them are not guarded or monitored by safety engineers in order to prevent accidental deaths and more unwelcome publicity to the lucrative but embarrassing jade industry. The scavengers have few other employment options and are not deterred by armed guards or the danger. The army hopes to get these jade mines working again and better economic ties with China will help with that.

May 3, 2018: On the west coast fighting in Chin state left four soldiers dead and five wounded. The army has been fighting the AA (Arakan Army) rebels here for some time. Along the west coast (Arakan and Chin states) the fighting is mainly about the army effort to control (tax) illegal logging by tribesmen. The tribes have been mistreated by the military for so long it is difficult to generate a lot of trust for a new peace agreement or even a ceasefire.

May 2, 2018: China announced that it is expanding its weather satellite coverage to all countries participating in the Obor (One Belt, One Road) project (by allowing China to build roads, railroads, pipelines and ports) and will share weather information with those nations. This is a big deal with many nations participating in Obor, especially those who lack the money to have their own dedicated weather satellites. Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand and Burma are all Obor participants and will benefit from regular access to the weather and land management (for farming, flood control and so on) information the expanded Chinse satellite network will provide.

April 26, 2018: In the north (Kachin State) KIA rebels continue fighting against the expanded army presence in KIA controlled territory. In the past week, the fighting has left at least ten civilians dead as the army tries to use refugees from the fighting as a weapon to force the rebels to back off. Many of the KIA fighters are related to the tribal people forced to flee the army advance. This fighting is a continuation of an army offensive that began at the end of 2017 to halt illegal (not paying a “tax” to the army) mining of amber and gold. Control of these mines helps finance the KIA, which has refused to participate in peace talks. The KIA still controls large portions of Kachin state but the army is spread thin and distracted by the Rohingya situation. Meanwhile, over 100,000 locals have been driven from their homes by the fighting and most of the gold and amber mining operations are still shut down, leaving the miners destitute. For the locals, the KIA offensive is popular. Moreover, many of the gold and amber mining operations are legitimate companies recognized by the government. The army incursion is seen as another example of the military acting like outlaws in the north.


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