The Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing visited Europe at the invitation of the European Union Military Committee (EUMC) November last year and again starting from April 22, by its German counterpart, Chief of Defense of the German Armed Forces General Volker Weiker, which is still ongoing at this writing.
His primary goal is to pay a goodwill visit to the Federal Republic of Germany with stopover in Austria.
According to the various news reports, the Tatmadaw or the Military goodwill delegation also comprises Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, wife of the Senior General, Chief of the General Staff (Army, Navy and Air) General Mya Tun Oo and senior military officers of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army).
Reportedly, according to the Commander-in-Chief's Facebook, his delegation visited the Austria Army Museum in Vienna on April 23, followed by the visit of the Myanmar (Burma) embassy, where he stressed the gathering to welcome him to learn from the industrially developed Austria and applied it at home to help develop the country.
The Austria Army Museum is a renowned museum of Austrian Armed Forces. Built on 15 April 1850, it was inaugurated in 1856. One of the oldest buildings of Austria, it exhibits the historical facts of the Austrian empire since 1867 (mid-19th century), arms and weapon invention and modernization programmes, the development of tanks, armored vehicles, naval vessels and aircraft, and the Austrian involvement in wars including the World War I and World War II sector wise.
On April 24, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was accorded a guard-of-honor welcome by Chief of Defense Staff of the Austrian Armed Forces General Othmar Commenda at the Austrian Defense Ministry.
During the call, the Senior General said the purpose of the tour was to promote ties between armed forces of the two countries and that the two armed forces could make cooperation in many areas, including promoting bilateral relations between the two countries. He stressed that successive Myanmar leaders had recognized European countries as friends and the Senior General invited his counterpart to pay an official goodwill visit to Myanmar.
Likewise, Chief of Defense Staff of Austrian Armed Forces said that he took pride of the goodwill visit of the Senior General and expressed his firm belief that the goodwill visit would promote further relations and cooperation. Armed forces from the European Union countries wished to enhance friendly ties with Myanmar Tatmadaw. Strengthening friendly relations between Myanmar and Austrian armed forces would contribute much to relations between Myanmar Tatmadaw and other EU armed forces. He offered officers from Myanmar Tatmadaw to attend the military training courses in Austria.
On the same day afternoon, the delegation visited the Diamond Aircraft Industry, where the Commander-in-Chief was flown around with a DA-62 type aircraft and the rest of the delegation members with other types of company produced aircraft around the city of Vienna. The delegation members were welcomed by Chief Executive Officer Mr. Christian Dries and officials of the Diamond Aircraft Industry and later in the evening were treated to a dinner.
After the Austria visit, the delegation next stop will be Germany. Although no detailed agendas have been made known by the Tatmadaw or Burma Army, primarily it should be to promote the army-to-army relationship and cooperation between Germany and Burma.
Speculation are that while the Commander-in-Chief would like to materialize his “Standard Army” ambition and not “Professional Army”, Germany could also be keen to reactivate its supplier-client relationship that goes all the way back into the early 1950s when Burma newly achieved independence from the British in 1948.
German Industrial-equipment Company Fritz Werner (Fritz Werner Industrie-Ausrüstungen GmbH), specializing in weapon production, has been doing business with Burma since early 1950s during the short parliamentary era and continued to be around even after the military takeover through the coup d'etat in 1962. The then military strongman General Ne Win was a close friend of the company and often visited the company's headquarters (Central) in Geisenheim, according to the report of Zeit Online, on April 11, 2013.
The company helped Burma in manufacturing the G3 and G4 rifles all along, but had to draw back from military-to-military relationship, due to EU's ban on weapon export, including other type of sanctions, after the military crackdown in 1988 that killed demonstrators in hundreds.
Since the Fritz Werner is owned by the German government, the good relationship has been unbroken, even during the Burma's military ruled period from 1962 until 2011. The military-to-military contact now seems to be picking up momentum, due to the lifting of various sanctions imposed by the West following democratization process of the country that is still in progress.
But with the re-establishment of military attache office in Berlin in 2017 by Burma, employing a full General, the Commander-in-Chief's Germany visit should become better said Khin Maung Saw, a former lecturer in Burma Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, according to the VOA report of April 23.
He further said: “Starting from one two years, EU countries regarding sanction issues, there were argument on whether or not to lift the sanction on weapon sale. If weapon sale sanction is kept, Burma could buy from Russia and China and would only profit them. If Burma would buy and we sell them wouldn't it be better? As we would be selling, we would have military-to-military contact which could lead to the training of their soldiers and officers. That discussion was during a little more than two years ago.”
He stressed: “Now Burma has changed and if it would like to buy, they (EU countries) would also sell.”
He also speculated that the integration of the East Germany's army into the West Germany's Federal Army or Bundeswehr could also be the topic of discussion, probably to see if this could be applicable in resolving the integration and demobilization of the various ethnic armies that have been fighting against the government of Burma.
But the BBC on April 24 reported that although there has been military-to-military contact between the EU, including Germany, with Burma, military observers said that it would not be easy to immediately lift the weapon embargo.
Especially, with the recent international condemnation of the human rights violations committed by the Burma Army in Arakan, Shan and Kachin States, it is highly unlikely that the EU would come to the stage of lifting the weapon embargo altogether, according to the analysis.
Reports concerning Min Aung Hlaing's Germany visit would, more or less, be in the same tune like Austria, probably paying a visit to Fritz Werner Company's central or headquarters and perhaps discussion over German unification, from the point of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR), where the East Germany's National People’s Army and West Germany's Federal Defense or Federal Armed Forces, is concerned.
The prospect of Min Aung Hlaing's visit to build better relation with the EU, especially with Germany, could be partly fulfilled. But buying armament and modern weapon technical knowledge transfer might have to wait a little, given the arm embargo is still being maintained.
With the German experience of DDR/SSR, if ever there is any discussion on it, the benefit would be minimum, as the situation are quite different.
The East and West Germans are the one and same nation and the crucial fact is that the East disintegrates on its own and generally, the West has to absorb all the East Germany's institutions, including the armed forces. But Burma's problem is rooted in ethnic conflict and it is not coming together of the same nation or ethnic group. And thus, its solution would be more of the SSR oriented implementation than just DDR, which in German experience seems to be the case.
Germany, a highly industrialized country with deep-rooted democratic system, is aiming and structuring a modern, hi-tech army, where fewer troops are needed, unlike the armies in third world countries.
Min Aung Hlaing according to his own conviction is to build a “standard army” and not “professional army” that takes order from the civilian government and subordinated to it, which he no-doubt means a Bamar-dominated army like it is now, which is materially better equipped and that would continue to call the shots in the country’s political decision-making process for sometimes to come until it decides to abdicate on its own timetable.
This would mean keeping the military-drafted constitution in tact as it is and a hybrid, the two-tier administrative system of civilian-military rule.
Lately, human-rights abuses in Burma's Arakan State have led to mounting international condemnation and called for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, following the insistence of
The Amnesty International annual report for 2016/17 wrote that “formation of a new civilian-led government did not lead to significant improvements in the human rights situation. The persecuted Rohingya minority faced increased violence and discrimination. Religious intolerance and anti-Muslim sentiment intensified. Fighting between the army and ethnic armed groups escalated in northern Myanmar.”
The Human Rights Watch yearly report of 2016 wrote that “Burma’s new government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in March 2016 after sweeping the November 2015 elections. Headed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw, the NLD controls a majority of both upper and lower house parliamentary seats in the country’s first democratically elected, civilian-led government since 1962. However, the new government inherited deep-rooted challenges, including constitutional empowerment of the military, repressive legislation, weak rule of law, and a corrupt judiciary.”
To sum up, constitutional empowerment of the military leads to suppression of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) in various ethnic states, which in turn resulted in human rights violations of the ethnic peoples by the Military, depleting any trust that might have been achieved by the NLD regime. And without trust there could be no negotiation and without it, no political settlement could be reached.
Thus, in the end, we have to come back to the amendment or rewriting of the constitution to end the hybrid two-tier administrative system that is not serving the interest of the country, so that the it could move forward.
For now, the Commander-in-Chief and the Military are determined to only build a standard army and not the professional one, which means the Military has to be subordinated to the civilian government and not vice-versa as it is now the case.
Min Aung Hlaing's vague promises that only if the country is peaceful, will the Military go back to the barracks could be years to come and even more remote, if it is going to draw its own policies, especially where the peace process and ethnic issues are concerned, and execute them as it sees fit, implying that it is the sole responsible party with sole right and ownership of the country's sovereignty and conducts military offensives in ethnic areas.
It should be clear that the ethnic armed conflict today is rooted in the political dissatisfaction over the Bamar-dominated government's sole ownership claim of the sovereignty and forcefully holding it together with the military might. And way out is to correct this wrong conceptual thinking into a kind of shared-sovereignty that the ethnic nationalities are demanding and voluntary participation in forging a genuine national unity, not coercively with military might.
Thus, if the Military would agree to become a professional army, the resolution of conflict could materialize in no time. But if not, the standard army ambition of Min Aung Hlaing, even if he is able to build one, would not benefit the peace process and national reconciliation.
By Sai Wansai
Several delegates have criticized the Shan State regional-level dialogue as a hastily arranged and unprepared event.
|Photo SHAN- over 400 representatives from political parties, the government, the Burmese armed forces, civil society, and ceasefire signatory groups attended the Shan State regional dialogue between April 23-25, 2017.|
Some 400 representatives from political parties, the government, the Burmese armed forces, civil society, and ceasefire signatory groups are attending the talks, which kicked off in state capital Taunggyi yesterday. Ethnic armed groups that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) were not invited to the conference.
The regional-level dialogue is a pre-runner to Union-level dialogue, unofficially dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference,” which is slated to be held sometime in May. The Taunggyi conference was held up as an opportunity for stakeholders in Shan State to share and recommend opinions in order to form a consensus ahead of the Union peace talks.
According to Dr Myo Htun, the regional minister of social affairs, the Office of the State Counsellor on April 19 authorized the Taunggyi meeting, after which logistics were rushed in order to hold the forum in time.
“We set up a conference committee and tried to do the best we could with such limited time to prepare,” he said. “We wanted to make sure everyone was involved, but some may have been left out. Please understand; this was purely down to the time restriction.”
Nang Mya Oo, the secretary of the Taunggyi branch of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said that they could not submit a paper to the committee because they did not have enough time to prepare.
“We were not able to submit our paper this time because they only asked us two days before the event,” she said. “However, we will present it [when we can].”
Yan Kyaw, a leading committee member of the Wa Self-Administered Division, echoed the sentiment that there was not enough time to prepare statements and paperwork.
“We had to discuss, prepare, write and submit our paper the night before we left to travel to the meeting,’ he said.
“I’m not satisfied with this conference,” he added. “They need to give us at least five days or one week to prepare. This regional-level meeting is very important. In the future, I hope they inform everyone well ahead of time.”
Khun Myint Htun, the chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), which was invited to Taunggyi’s conference, said, “As this event is led by the Shan State government, it stands to reason that every armed group in the state should be invited to participate as observers.”
Reached for comment by Shan Herald, Lt-Col Sai Oo of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), a signatory to the NCA, but which was blocked from convening a conference in February, said that dialogue should proceed step by step.
“This event is organized by the government, and it is good to have this meeting,” he said. “However it is very urgent, and it should be organized to proceed on a step-by-step basis.”
According to Shan State Chief Minister Dr. Linn Htut, to date some 70 papers have been submitted to the conference, including 26 related to political issues, 23 papers related to economy, and 21 involving land and resources issues.
The conference is scheduled to be held in the state capital from April 23 to 25.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)
Day Three. Friday, 7 April 2017
We should not moor a ship with one anchor
Or our life with one hope.
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)
Nothing much to report for today. I have lunch at a monastery in Yankin township, where one of my nephews who’s newly wed and his bride are holding a merit-making ceremony.
On the way back, one of my relatives remembers:
Sao Kya Hseng and Die letzte Mahadevi
On the day (24 April 1959) of the Saophas (ruling princes) relinquishing their traditional powers to the Shan State government, Gen Ne Win, who was then head of the caretaker government (from 1958 to 1960), arrived in Taunggyi. He was welcomed by all the Saophas standing in line whom he shook hands with one after another. But when he came face to face with the Saopha of Hsipaw, he turned his head away as it to talk to someone and walked past him to shake hands with the next Sao Pha.”
The said Saopha, who mysteriously disappeared during the 1962 coup, is immortalized in “Twilight over Burma,” the book written by Inge Sargent, his consort. A movie, based on the book, came out last year, but was banned both in Thailand and Burma.
But I also remember what U Ne Win said before his death, that had he learned the impermanence and impartiality of life during his younger days, an event like the 1962 takeover wouldn’t have taken place.
Naturally, I begin to wonder what would have happened to his beloved Tatmadaw and the country had he decided to stay out of politics. Won’t you too, if you’ve heard what I’ve heard?
Day Four. Saturday, 8 April 2017
I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, and Commissioner of Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)
The public event today, held at Novotel Max, is aimed for promotion of a less punitive approach to drug users.
A government official, reports Transnational Institute (TNI), estimated the total proportion of Myanmar prison population incarcerated for drug related offenses to be 70%.
The key reason for this, the conveners say, is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law adopted on 27 January 1993 by the then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), in line with the 1988 UN Convention, which Burma acceded on 11 June 1991. It stipulates that drug users are liable to imprisonment from 3-5 years, and a person found in possession of a minimum of:
§ 3 grams of heroin
§ 3 grams of opium
§ 25 grams of cannabis
will be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment or longer.
Madam Ruth Dreifuss (Photo:globalcommissionondrugs.org)
But since the quasi-civilian government of U Thein Sein took power in 2011, a review of many of the country’s laws, including the 1993 drug law, has been taking place. The result is the draft amendment bill which was published last month in newspapers for public consultation. One official from the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) who attends the event sums the bill up this way:
We will not take users to jail. We will be taking them to treatment centers instead.
Madam Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), says Myanmar is not alone in employing harsh measures against drug users. But pilot programs in decriminalization have been paying off in the West.
For example, Portugal, since 2001, after decriminalizing drug possession for personal use, has experienced a reduction of drug use, drug-related deaths, and new cases of AIDS among others.
“Equally, the Netherlands, which decriminalized drug possession in the mid1970s, has reported lower rates of ‘hard drug’ use when compared to many of its Western European neighbors and the US,” says its 2016 report, entitled Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A new approach to decentralization, which is launched at the event.
In Burma, prohibition has been one major cause for an upsurge in drug use and the consequential social instability, and the emergence of vigilante groups like Pat Jasan, initiated by frustrated local populace.
Sai Sarm Kham of Metta Foundation who has been working in 3 Shan townships has a lot to say about the group and other related topics:
§ They need to be shown there are options other than punitive measures
§ During the 1990’s, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) introduced buckwheat as a substitution crop in Shan State North. People were forced to grow it. But when the harvest was shipped to Japan, by the time it reached there, its quality had suffered and there was no one to purchase it
§ China also encouraged its businessmen to initiate crop substitution programs in the form of coffee and rubber plantations. On the contrary, these projects led to land grabbing, pushing the farmers out of their ancestral homes and land
§ Drugs and development are interrelated. But political and social factors must also be taken into account
§ In the end, according to a Kachin elder, there are no such thing as substitution programs, That’s a misleading way of thinking. What we need to do is a social-politico-economic improvement of the people.
I have prepared a number of questions for the panelists. However, time is extremely limited (13:00-
The big question is, of course, how decriminalization can work where criminalization hasn’t. Because, clearly, amendment to the 1993 drug law alone, like a magic wand, won’t do away with the drug problem that has for more than 60 years been closely associated with war and strife.
Still I have another meeting to attend. And much as I want to talk to my friends, old and new, I decide that there’ll be another time and take a French leave.
I haven’t much to say about the next meeting except that I keep learning things, which, if put into good use, will do a lot of good to the peace process.
The next day I’m back in Chiangmai at attend more meetings and, then to return home for the Songkran. Which, for the past two years, I had missed. The warning from my better half says if I’m going to miss it again this time, I may just as well miss it forever.
Presentation for Discussion
Priorities for Peace
China-Myanmar Scholars Dialogue for Promoting Peace and Stability for Myanmar
(6 April 2017)
First of all, allow me to introduce myself as a Huaqiao, or officially a Haiwai Huaren otherwise a person of Chinese descent who lives outside China. I was born in this country. Accordingly, the first message I would like to convey is that I hold myself at least partly responsible for whatever happens in this country, either good or bad, especially bad.
In the past, I was known for my annual reports on the drug situation in Shan State, where I hail from. But since 2011, I have been assisting the work of peacemakers on both sides of the fence.
I’m sure you’ve already heard most of the things I’m going to present here. But since human concentration span in this digital age is woefully short, I hope you will bear with me for a few minutes.
Peace is relative
When we talk about Myanmar’s peace process, we will need to look at two different playing fields: inside and outside. What’s common between them is both need win-win solutions and both are interdependent. Success in one category will complement the other. Naturally, failure in one will hurt the other too.
Peace with neighbors a crying requisite
But here we will be discussing less about the inside playing field, but more about the outside one.
Outside, I fully agree with Myanmar’s Non-Alignment Policy, which is enshrined in its 2008 constitution as well as its 2015 defense white paper.
What we really need however is to expand our friendship not just to one superpower, either regional or global, but to all of them.
I’m not against the rise of China, Japan, Russia and India as superpowers. But we need a right balance among them to make and preserve peace, like the planets going around this earth. In the same breath, I’m wary of the decline of each existing power, which might spell danger to our own existence.
We need to be friends with all, not just one. And we need all of you to be friends, not enemies. Because it will be good for you as well as us.
A win-win solution: not only a must for the internal peace process
Now I’m going to discuss what we have really come here to talk about: Sino-Myanmar relations
Without achieving a win-win solution between the two countries, it is clear this country will face immense difficulties to achieve a sustainable internal peace. And vice versa.
Like the internal peace process, I think we need an agreed set of trust building roadmap between the two countries. Here it must be acknowledged that China has made a lot of “commendable” efforts in this respect:
§ Financial assistance for JMC
§ The two plus two arrangement¹
§ Suspension of MNDAA bank account²
§ Public notice urging refugees to surrender their firearms³
§ Issuing invitations to ethnic political parties to visit China. Here what we may need is anther invitation for EAOs, especially the NCA signatories, to visit it. Right now, it seems to outsiders they are being excluded.
I welcome these efforts. I appreciate them. And personally, I also agree with 2 points stated in China’s White Paper which came out in January:
§ One, “Small and medium-sized countries need not and should not take sides among big countries”
§ Two, “We cannot just have the security of one or some countries while leaving the rest insecure, still less should we seek ‘absolute security’ of oneself at the expense of the security of others”
But they are not enough. The least China could do is to present us with a draft plan of what you want to do and what you want us to do⁴. Then together we will be able to work out an agenda that both can agree.
More need to be done to improve relations
A lot more is necessary, not only about engagement with our country’s peace process, but also in other areas which should be aimed at winning the hearts of is country’s public in favor of China, that will in turn influence the outcome of the peace process.
To win over them, we will need to remove their bitter sense of being bullied by China throughout the past decades:
§ Depletion of forests, minerals, and jade, forced on them by Chinese companies
§ Cheap Chinese goods that have resulted in the locals losing their jobs and livelihoods
§ Development projects that have forced the people out of their homes and fields
(I’m sure China has its own complaints about this country and its people, and this is one platform where they should be aired)
The word ‘Hate’ is an ugly one. But that is how they feel about China. And as a one-quarter Chinese, I don’t feel good about that. These problems should be addressed, apart from those concerning the ongoing internal peace process.
To resolve them, G to G relations alone will not help, if the public is against people coming across the border.
I’m aware that President Xi is aware of the feelings of people in countries, not only Myanmar, where China is working. We keep hearing Chinese leaders assuring us that the rise of China will be peaceful, that China will never seek hegemony. But words are not enough. Deeds are.
I’m winding up my presentation with two translated excerpts from Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing:
§ How does the sea become the king of all streams? Because it lies lower than they!
§ Hence, if a great country can lower itself before a small country, it will win over the small country; and if a small country can lower itself before a great country, it will win over the great country. The one wins by stooping; the other, by remaining low.
Please forgive me if it sounds like a sermon. But it is not. On the contrary, it is just a friendly and filial suggestion. Thank you.⁵
1. The two plus two arrangement (meeting of foreign and defense officials on both sides) has reportedly worked well between Myanmar and Thailand. However, as for the arrangement between China and Myanmar, it was observed by both Chinese and Myanmar scholars as “too formal”
2. Suspension of MNDAA bank account has been criticized by some as just token, as it was holding just a little over US$ 500,000.
3. Some have noted that the rewards for the surrender of firearms are not “enticing enough”
4. The result was that both sides agreed to form a joint border fact-finding team
5. One thing I forgot to say, but hoped everyone understood, was that I was not speaking for anybody but myself.
(To be continued)
(5-9 April 2017)
Linda K.Burton (1952-)
Two invitations came last March which enabled me to make another trip back to the country I have come to call Hopeland:
- One, to attend the “China-Myanmar Scholars Dialogue for Promoting Peace and Stability in Myanmar,” which was being jointly organized by Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) and Centre for Human Dialogue (HD)
- Two, to attend a public event to discuss a draft bill recently published in newspapers proposing amendments to the 1993 drug law. It was being jointly organized by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) and the Drug Policy Advocacy Group Myanmar (DPAG).
China and Drugs have for long been subjects close to my heart, for I have always believed that unless the two are properly treated, the country will still be a long, long way from being one fit to live, let alone becoming a Switzerland in the east.
This journal tries to inform the reader what I had learned there.
Day One, Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Life is really simple.
But we insist on making it complicated
Confucius (551-479 BC)
Nothing much to say for today except that I meet friends to review on the by-elections that were held 4 days earlier.
From them, I learn at least one thing: In the Burman dominated lowlands, it is not about the peace process like in the highlands, but about the economy that will more than likely determine which party and candidate the voter will choose in 2020.
Day Two. Thursday, 6 April 2017
Each nation feels superior to other nations.
That breeds patriotism—and wars.
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)
Participants at the China-Myanmar Scholars Dialogue, 6 April 2017.
(Photo: Aung Myo Htwe)
The China-Myanmar Scholars’ Dialogue is held at the meeting hall of the MISIS, also known as Myanmar ISIS.
As to be expected, the first question I ask is: “Why of all the acronyms in this world, Myanmar ISIS?” To which one of our host is ready with an answer, accompanied by a laugh. “Because we’re out to destroy the other ISIS.”
The institute was set up in 1992 by Gen Khin Nyunt, as Office of Strategic Studies (OSS), he informs me. He doesn’t say when the name change took place, however. But I guess that won’t be hard to guess.
Burmese commanders have sent tens of thousands of troops into the mountainous region, supported by aircraft and artillery. (Photo:FP)
Understandably, about half of the 30 or so participants are members of the MISIS. Among the non-MISIS are members of HD, 4 Chinese scholars, and others. Which include myself. The following are excerpts from the first presenters:
Chinese scholar#1 Armed conflicts that began in 2009 have disturbed peace and stability along the 2,192 km border:
8 August 2009 - with MNDAA
June 2011 - with KIA
February 2015 - with MNDAA
November 2016- with NAB
March 2017 - with MNDAA
5 Chinese citizens were killed and 8 injured. Economic projects suspended. Local governments bearing big burden for refugees.
- Immediate stop to military actions necessary in order to resettle refugees and promote peace, stability and development along the border. The Tatmadaw and the EAOs will also do better to talk peace instead of making war
- But there is a problem: China can only play a constructive role for all stakeholders, and the Tatmadaw is not satisfied with China’s efforts
- With mutual trust between us, China can do more. Unfortunately, at present, it is still unclear about Naypyitaw’s policy toward it
- We now have a 2+2 arrangement (defense and foreign affairs of each side meeting once a year, or more if necessary) but it is not enough, because it can only implement policies from above but cannot initiate. We need a top level arrangement
- The EAOs, if they are deprived of support, cannot survive
- We enjoy good relations on the G-to-G level. But on the people-to-people level, no.
Kachin Independence Army leader General Gun Maw, left, walks with Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang as leaders and representatives of various ethnic armed groups arrive for the opening of a four-day conference in Mai Ja Yang. (AFP)
Reading between the lines, the presentations by the two scholars seem to have summed up the whole lot of discussions that followed today: No trust exists between the two who need each other so much.
Presentations by others, including mine, are just appendices to the two’s. That’s how they look to me, anyway. Let’s see what they are:
- Beijing does not support weapons to Wa or Kokang. Ordinary people may be helping them without Beijing or Kunming’s knowledge.
- China wants peace in Myanmar so that it can engage in economic development
- With regards to the West involvement in Myanmar Peace Process, our stand is that we cannot interfere in US-Mexican trans-border affairs, because we don’t have stakes in them. Correspondingly, armed conflicts in Myanmar impact China/Myanmar relations, but nothing to the West. So why should we want to involve them? (Note: He names US, UK, Japan, EU and others, but not India) As for UN, we have no objection.
- We need every means we can to promote our relations. For instance, there are lots of Chinese restaurants in Yangon, but no Myanmar restaurants in Beijing. We should do something about it.
- For EAOs to sign the NCA, we can persuade, but no more. It’s not only the Myanmar government that distrusts China. When Mr Sun Guoxiang, China’s special envoy, asks the EAOs to stop fighting and sign the NCA, they think China is working for the Myanmar government. Both sides seem to suspect China is on the other side.
- Thailand and Myanmar have good relations. The result of it is that conflicts on the border have come to a complete halt. We hope China can do the same.
- As long as clashes continue, bilateral relations will be difficult to improve, as there are widespread reports and images of support coming to the rebels from across the border. EAOs along the Chinese border are stronger because they have arms factories there. On the other hand, those along the Thai border are weaker, because they can’t establish armeds factories there. Even if they have sufficient funds, buying arms from across Thailand is not easy.
- As for the three EAOs (AA, MNDAA and TNLA), the Tatmadaw used to demand that they lay down arms. But that was before the new government took office. Since then, it has only requested them to renounce the armed struggle and lock up their firearms along the border, no need to surrender them to the Tatmadaw.
- There’s a Global Times article dated 8 March 2017. The author Yu Ning wrote that China had lost Kokang to Myanmar due to the boundary treaty in 1960. As though giving up Kokang was a mistake like the Russians did with Crimea. Which wasn’t true. (Kokang had been part of British Shan States since the Sino-British treaty was signed in 1894 —Author’s note)
- There are some things we can learn from China. Wa in Yunnan have good relations with the Han majority, but not those in Myanmar.
- What’s the next step?
The 2 plus 2 arrangement has limitations, because it is too formal. Each side sticks to its own policies and go home. They have never got to the point of resolving the issues.
Toward the end of the day, Dr Kong Jianxun, who happens to be from the Hani ethnic group, known in Myanmar as Akha, proposes that a joint border fact finding team be formed, as a first step, to ascertain facts from myths, which is seconded by several Myanmar scholars, who add that HD should fund the project. The latter promises to consider the request.
The day ends with a dinner party at a restaurant called Hong Bao, but also strangely known as Water Library, which I have yet to find out how it came to be named as such.
The one thing I remember from the party is a remark from a former rebel friend, who still have contacts along the Chinese border and across. “The Wa has become another North Korea for the Chinese,” he says. “They are Chinese protégés, but they don’t always listen to China’s advice.”
At 21:00, I’m back in my hotel room.