Myanmar: Billions Of Reasons To Love China


July 29, 2013: China began delivering Burmese natural gas to southwest China via a 793 kilometer pipeline. Over the last two decades, as natural gas deposits were developed along the west coast (Arakan and Chin states), China stepped in as the main customer and built the pipeline that can move the equivalent (in energy terms) of 23.8 million barrels of oil a year. China is ready to start using an oil pipeline (carrying 148 million barrels a year from the Burmese coast) that will lower the transportation costs of Middle Eastern oil used by southwestern China. Burma gets $1.5 billion a year from the pipelines. 

The government signed off on a new peace deal with the Wa leadership up north. But this July 13th deal is only a truce, because the Wa want more autonomy and the government does not want to allow that. There are only about 600,000 Wa people in the north but they are a tough bunch and are formidable opponents. Fighting them has become more expensive as the Wa have prospered from the drug trade. Now some Wa want to establish an autonomous Wa territory in Shan State. At the same time the Wa insist they are no longer in the drug business and expect the government to believe them on this. In Shan state the Wa now expects troops to stop blocking roads to anyone suspected of belonging to the Wa armed forces (UWSA or United Wa State Army). Half the tribal militiamen in the far north belong to the UWSA, which has about 30,000 armed men operating along the Chinese border. The Wa are ethnic Chinese, and many other Wa live across the border in China. The Chinese has 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. The government had resumed interfering with trucks (carrying food and other goods) entering Wa territory. The Wa can get what they need from China, but some Burmese Wa live closer to roads coming from the south, rather than those coming from China. Many Wa believe that the Burmese would like to push all the Wa into China, but that is not likely to happen because of UWSA resistance and Chinese criticism. It is true that the ethnic Burmese in the south would prefer the northern tribes to just disappear.

In the far north the Shan State Army–South (SSA-S) continues to battle soldiers who, since January, have been trying to force the SSA-S out of bases that the army wants to occupy. The army is definitely trying to interfere with the tribal drug operations up there. The SSA-S is allied with the neighboring UWSA and these two groups are making a lot of money producing and smuggling drugs. Opium and heroin production have been revived in the past few years. Production of methamphetamine is huge. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Over the last few years, production of yaba tablets has soared. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants) and the meth labs are believed to produce several hundred million tablets a year. The tribal rebels, especially the UWSA, use the profits to buy more weapons for their fighters and run their rebel administration. The government has been in a weak bargaining position here but always had the option to declare the militias in violation of the 2012 peace deal and officially renew the fighting. The army is accustomed to having its own way in the north and the government has not come up with a way to get the generals under control up there. This is why new peace deals with the government do not always being peace. The army does not negotiate formal treaties, and deals with them have to be made in the shadows without any formal media involvement.

Moslem countries are pressing Burma to do more to protect their Moslem population and treat Rohingya Moslems from Bangladesh better (as in granting them citizenship). The Burmese find this hypocritical because many Moslem countries, including wealthy Gulf States, refuse to grant citizenship to Moslems who have lived within their borders for many generations. The Burmese also note that Moslems tend to be very violent against other Moslems because of religious disagreements. Burmese also blame the wealthy Gulf Arab states for long subsidizing aggressive and anti-Buddhist Moslem missionaries and religious schools. Meanwhile, Burma has sentenced dozens of Buddhists to prison for crimes committed during the past year of anti-Moslem violence.

India is pressuring Burma to do something about the continuing weapons smuggling by Burmese to leftist (Maoist) rebels in India. The Burmese point out that they have been fighting tribal rebels for decades, as have the Indians in nearby northeastern India. Neither country has been able to suppress the illegal activities of their tribal rebels.

July 24, 2013: China agreed to amend the terms of their copper mine project in an effort to placate local critics. Progress has been stalled because of violence at the site of a Chinese copper mine. Efforts to build this mine ran into problems when locals, who were not consulted, or compensated, were confronted by police demanding they vacate their property so the Chinese could use it for the mine. The locals, most of them tribal, resisted. This became a political issue down south, as it resonated with corruption and Chinese payoffs that the new democratic government promised to eliminate. But a lot of these deals are still in force and that is proving to be an embarrassment for the officials who negotiated the terms and got paid off. The new copper mine contract provides several million dollars a year to pay off troublesome critics, as well as making some cosmetic changes to the basic deal which makes the government look good and the Chinese contrite. It’s unclear if this will be enough to get production going again. China has invested over $14 billion in Burma, although new investments have dried up since popular unrest last September halted a $3.6 billion hydroelectric dam project in the north. Most of the investment so far has been in energy related areas and mining.

July 21, 2013: In Mandalay a car bomb went off while radical Buddhist leader Wirathu was giving a speech. Five civilians were wounded but Wirathu was unhurt. Wirathu backs restrictions on Moslems in Burma and accuses Moslems of being intolerant and supporters of terrorism. Most Burmese appear to agree with Wirathu, and this has led to more violence between Buddhists and Moslems. Many of the attacks were directed at Moslem religious schools which tend to produce Islamic terrorists wherever they operate.

July 20, 2013: The government lifted the state of emergency in force for central Burma towns during the last four months. The government declared that the anti-Moslem unrest was taken care of, although many local Moslems would not agree with that.

July 18, 2013: Britain has lifted its embargo on most military exports to Burma. This clears the way for a $5 million shipment of navigation devices and other gear for the Burmese military. Britain has also offered military training for Burmese troops, especially in techniques for peacefully dealing with tribal disputes.

July 17, 2013: The government announced that 28 tax officials were being prosecuted for corruption. Half have already been convicted. Tax evasion has long been common, mainly because tax officials could be bribed. The current reform effort was notable in that no senior tax officials were convicted, although some were accused.

July 12, 2013: The government disbanded the Nasaka, a paramilitary border security force of 1,200 men that guarded the 271 kilometer long Bangladesh border. Nasaka has been accused of brutality towards Rohingya Moslems (both those in Burma and those trying to cross over from Bangladesh).

July 7, 2013: In eastern India (Bihar State) eight bombs went off between 5:30AM and 5:58AM at a major Buddhist temple complex frequently visited by Burmese. Two people were wounded and police later found five more bombs and disabled them. All the explosions took place at a major Buddhist religious shrine (Buddha was born in India) and Islamic terrorists are suspected, but no one took credit for the attacks. Burma believes this is a revenge attack against Burma because of Buddhist violence against Burmese Moslems. But the Indian police investigation indicates the bombing could have been the result of feuds between different Buddhist sects.



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