China urges cease-fire in northern Myanmar


In this photograph taken October 14, 2016, armed rebels belonging to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) ethnic group take a cigarette break as they move towards the frontline near Laiza in Kachin state. Photo: Hkun Lat/AFP

China and Myanmar on Tuesday held their second high-level meeting in less than three months to discuss how to alleviate tensions and achieve a cease-fire in northern Myanmar region. 

Analysts believe the meeting demonstrates China's support for Myanmar's unification ahead of a key nationwide peace meeting set to take place later this month. 

The new round of the China-Myanmar Diplomacy and Defense "2+2" consultation meeting, which was held in Kunming, Yunnan Province on Tuesday, was co-chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission Shao Yuanming from the Chinese side, and Minister of State of Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin and Chief of the No.1 Special Operations Bureau of the Tatmadaw Tun Tun Naung from Myanmar.

The two countries have agreed to have close communication on the situation in northern Myanmar and maintain peace and stability in the border areas between the two countries, the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a press release issued by China's foreign ministry after the consultation.

China expects relevant parties in Myanmar to exercise restraint and agree on a cease-fire in northern Myanmar as soon as possible.

The Myanmar government has been fighting armed ethnic groups in northern Myanmar for decades. The fighting has affected China's border security and, from time to time, causes refugee problems. The conflict has also dampened trust between the two countries as some armed ethnic groups rely on border trade with China to support themselves. 

The meeting was held two months after a late November meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, capital of Myanmar, Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Zhu Zhenming, a scholar at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that "China can make a timetable for the cease-fire that both the Myanmar government and armed ethnic groups can accept," noting that China would act as an impartial arbiter and not interfere with Myanmar's domestic affairs.

Zhu said that China can also make suggestions and help the two sides control the use of heavy weapons in small counties and mountainous areas, where small-scale military conflicts often break out.

Zhuang Guotu, a Southeast Asian Studies professor at Xiamen University, said that it would be a major blow to the Belt and Road Initiative if the military conflicts expanded to the whole of northern Myanmar - a vital link in the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21 Century Maritime Silk Road. 

Data shows that border trade between Myanmar's northern Shan state and China dropped by over $210 million as of November 25 in the 2016-2017 fiscal year due to armed conflicts, Xinhua reported, citing the Myanmar Ministry of Commerce.

"The situation in northern Myanmar will only stabilize when the regional economy develops, as control over the regional economy is the major bone of contention between the Myanmar government and the armed ethnic groups," Zhuang explained.

China also needs continuous economic cooperation to revive its investment and trade with the region, which has been hindered by severe clashes that started in November 2016. 

The key to achieving a cease-fire at present is a unilateral cessation of fighting by the Myanmar government forces, otherwise armed ethnic groups would not be willing to jeopardize their defense, according to Zhuang. 

Peace process

The second meeting of Myanmar's 21st century Panglong Peace Conference (PPC) will be held in Nay Pyi Taw on February 28 with the participation of about 700 representatives, Xinhua reported Tuesday, citing the Global New Light of Myanmar news agency. The first meeting was held in Nay Pyi Taw in August 2016. 

The failure of the first PPC meeting led, at least partially, to last year's clashes in the northern Myanmar region as several important armed ethnic groups were absent from the meeting due to poor planning, according to Zhuang.

Zhuang said that Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar have learned from last year's clashes and aim to include more armed ethnic groups in the second meeting.

Courtesy Global Times

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