U Sein Win Aung, former Myanmar ambassador to China
Relations between Myanmar and China have been strained by the fighting that erupted in the Kokang region on February 9 between government troops and forces loyal to Pyone Kyar Shin, who heads the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. It is the most serious fighting in the region since 2009, when the MNDAA was ousted from power in fighting that followed its refusal to form a border guard force under Tatmadaw command. Mizzima’s Kay Zue discussed the relationship between Nay Pyi Taw and Beijing in an interview with U Sein Win Aung, who was Myanmar’s ambassador to China from 2000 to 2003.
How would you describe the bilateral relationship when you were ambassador to China?
During that time, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Myanmar once. Myanmar leaders also made visits to China. The two countries had a very good relationship then.
What were China’s main investments in Myanmar at that time?
There were some Chinese factories, making or assembling such products as paper, tractors, sewing machines and shoes. The Chinese also invested in heavy industry and the agricultural sector. There was no Chinese investment then in natural resources, except drilling for oil offshore.
What was the relationship between Myanmar citizens and Chinese people in Kokang region when you were ambassador?
The Kokang and Wa people are genuine Myanmar nationals. The Wa people lived in the area around Mongla. The Kokang people were also living in this area.
Do you mean there was no infiltration by Chinese people into those areas at that time?
Correct. The Communist Party of Burma was also based in that border area. Except for the Kachin Independence Army, the other forces were under the influence of the CPB, which moved its base to Ruili, China. The Kokang was the first group to fight against the KIA.
When did Chinese people start mixing with people from Myanmar?
The mixing began in the prehistoric period and involved people whose ancestors originated in the Tibet plateau.
There have been accusations that Pyone Kyar shin’s group has a close relationship with china. Do you think the fighting will affect diplomatic ties between Myanmar and China?
The accusations cannot be confirmed without firm evidence. It is possible that there are fighters on the Kokang side who are mercenaries recruited by Pyone yar Shin. If the accusations escalate it will lead to complications in bilateral relations.
What is the likely outcome of tensions in the relationship between Myanmar and China?
We can overcome all the problems if both countries adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. The Chinese government has insisted it has no involvement in the Kokang conflict despite accusations from the Tatmadaw of Chinese involvement.
The state-run media did not accuse the Chinese government of being directly involved but mentioned suspicions about the involvement of Chinese mercenaries, not Chinese soldiers. The meanings are not contrary to each other. But one should not say things baseless allegations.
What affect could the fighting have on bilateral relations?
If the accusations from this (Myanmar) side cannot be stopped, bilateral relations will be tarnished. Relations may change, but we will not become enemies. Relations between the two countries have developed into a strategic partnership. Mutual understanding is important. Maybe we need to regain mutual understanding.
Could the situation develop into an obstacle for Chinese investment in Myanmar?
Mutual trust has declined. China has a large population of 1,500 million, while Myanmar has just over 50 million people. The two countries have different political situations and administrations. Thins will not change dramatically and immediately due to these differences. Myanmar helped China to become a member of the World Trade Organisation, ASEAN + 1 and the United Nations. Myanmar helped China to strengthen its relationship with ASEAN. They remember this with gratitude. China will not do anything to strain the relations.
What is your perspective of bilateral relations based on your experience as a former ambassador to China?
We have established a good relationship as neighbours over decades. Myanmar and China signed an agreement to adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence [in 1954]. I do not believe either side will damage this good relationship. But, one should not emphasise the policy only based on big nation status as well. Myanmar shares borders with China and India, both big countries with large populations. It is to Myanmar’s advantage to share borders with these countries. We should think about things based on present situation and circumstances.
This Article first appeared in the March 12, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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