Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Beijing is certain to have multiple issues to hash out with the former senior general from Naypyidaw during this week’s bilateral talks, analysts believe, especially with two months remaining before Burma’s first general election in 20 years.
Analysts point to the election, regional security, heightened tensions with ethnic groups along the Sino-Burmese border and burgeoning economic relations as likely to be targeted during Than Shwe’s five-day visit to China set to commence tomorrow.
Human Rights Watch, a justice advocacy based in the United States, in a statement dated September 7 encouraged China to use the opportunity to urge Burma’s military to promote an electoral atmosphere conducive to free voting and accountability for serious crimes.
“Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao should not embolden Burma’s generals by ignoring the flawed November elections and the need for accountability,” Human Rights Watch acting Asia director Sophie Richardson said. “China can better secure its interests in Burma by switching its support from the abusive generals to supporting the Burmese people.”
Expanding on that sentiment, Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher David Mathieson said: “China is looking to guarantee long-term investment. But there is no guarantee of that. Just look at the situation along the border. So, what we are saying is that a more united and developing Burma is in China’s interests too.”
Since it was caught in the dark with the removal of then-Burmese prime minister Khin Nyunt in October 2004, and the move of the administrative capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in November 2005, Beijing has increased intelligence operations aimed at identifying any changes in Burma’s leadership.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, believed the visit of Than Shwe at China’s invitation, may also be about gathering information on the country’s leadership succession.
“He’d [Than Shwe] like to speak about the changes he has made in the armed forces, including introducing his heir apparent, Bo Myint Aung,” Aung Kyaw Zaw told Mizzima.
However, Mathieson was quick to point out that while it was possible to trace the economic dealings between the two Asian neighbours, “not many people know what is going on behind closed doors with the relationship”.
Concern was also growing among Chinese leaders regarding the fragile situation in northern Burma between government forces and those of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence (KIO), as both ceasefire groups had continued to reject Naypyidaw’s Border Guard Force proposal, Aung Kyaw Zaw said.
“I think he [Than Shwe] will try to get a consensus with China regarding tensions with armed ceasefire groups stationed along the China border,” he said. “However, I think these armed ceasefire groups can settle this issue only through bloodshed.”
“The Burmese government may want China to block the escape route of these ceasefire groups when they are attacked by Burmese troops,” the observer form the northern border area continued. “But I don’t think China will do that because these people [the ethnic communities] have a very long relationship with China.”
The UWSA and KIO are believed able to field 20,000 and 5,000 troops, respectively.
In August last year, fighting between Burmese forces and a significantly smaller ethnic Kokang militia drove 37,000 refugees into China’s Yunnan province.
Stability in the cases of civil war and leadership succession are in turn important in protecting Beijing’s immense and growing economic interests in China, an area that Than Shwe’s itinerary looks to further promote.
The Burmese leader is expected in addition to visiting Beijing to take in the Shanghai World Expo and Shenzen. Often regarded as one of the most successful examples of a special economic zone, the meteoric growth of the latter has largely been attributed to its ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
China has massively increased FDI in Burma this year, injecting more than US$8 billion primarily into the hydropower and oil and gas sectors. The drastic flow enhances Beijing’s strong position, which until the start of this year saw Chinese investment total US$1.8 billion, or 11.5 per cent of Burma’s total FDI.
While the exact agenda of the delegation’s visit to China remained speculative, Mathieson concluded: “Everyone has something to gain [from the talks] except the people of Burma.”