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article imageChina calls for ceasefire in Burma

By Raluca Besliu     Jan 17, 2013 in Politics
China has called for the immediate ceasefire between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Army fighting in the north of Burma, after an artillery shell landed in China’s Yunnan province for the fourth time since December 2012.
Speaking at a press conference, Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed that a bomb had been dropped inside China, at around 500 meters from its border with Burma.
He also announced that China had made “immediate emergency representations to Myanmar, expressed strong concern and dissatisfaction with the situation, and demanded that Myanmar earnestly investigate and adopt a series of measures to prevent further similar occurrences.”
This is one of the rare moments when China publicly criticizes its neighbor, with whom it has cultivated strong ties and to whom it has been supplying military hardware, making it possible that the bomb recently dropped on its territory could have been supplied by Beijing. However, since Burmese President Thein Stein gained power in 2011, bilateral relations have been affected by his reformist policies, which included the annulment of an important Chinese hydropower project in Kachin state. The Myitsone dam was canceled, as a result of popular pressure. The Burmese public has also opposed other significant natural resources and pipeline Chinese projects in their country.
The Kachin rebels have accused the Burmese military of intensifying its attacks, by using aerial bombings, shelling and even chemical weapons since December 28, 2012, in an effort to gain control over Laiza, the rebels’ headquarters located near the Chinese border. The government has denied any airstrikes, claiming that K-8 trainer jets provided cover fire for ground troops. The conflict’s intensification raises doubts over the assurances made by the Burmese government, praised for reforms aimed at democratizing the Burmese society that it wanted to reach a peace deal with the rebels.
Concerned about the escalation of conflict, China has sent recently troops to the border between China’s Yunnan Province and Burma’s northern Kachin state to understand the situation better. At the same time, it has been reported that China has set up additional checkpoints close to the Burmese border. The China-Burma border is a porous one, as it is common for Burmese ethnic minorities to cross the border unofficially daily, while the Chinese venture into Burmese town for trade purposes. China has allegedly also started setting up refugee camps to support the refugee influx arriving from the area of conflict, even though the country is traditionally wary of taking in refugees.
China has offered to host talks between the rebels and the Burmese government in the Chinese town of Ruili, in an effort to broker a peace agreement. However, given the conflict’s recent intensification, this seems like an unlike prospect for the near future.
China prides itself in a policy of diplomatic non-interference. However, some policy analysts, such as Du Jifeng from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, claim that, unless China takes a more active role in the current conflict, it will ultimately end up affecting China.
Still, China might be motivated to tolerate this round of fighting in Burma, because, according to some experts, the goal of the Burmese government is to take control of the sites of some of China’s proposed hydroenergetic dams, including the cancelled Myitsone dam, which have all been opposed by locals, but are important to state-owned companies. China’s response to the conflict is further complicated by the fact that ethnic Kachin live on both sides of the border. Recently, thousands of Kachin have protested against the Burmese army’s actions at a border checkpoint, while on the other side of the border, around 2,000 Kachin gathered in solidarity with the protesters.
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