As many as 15,000 refugees from the fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin province may still be taking shelter in Yunnan province, even though China doesn’t want them there and has denied their presence. The number comes from
Wunpawng Ninghtoi (the People’s Light), a Kachin refugee support group, quoted by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma web site.
Yunnan provincial and local officials have been pressing the refugees they say they aren’t aware of to return to Myanmar. The aid group says those still in China, spread across 19 camps, are relying on aid from locals and religious groups. On the Myanmar side of the remote, hilly border, there are an estimated 70,000 displaced persons living in camps. International aid agencies have been given only limited access to the area by the Myanmar government. They appear to have been denied any access from the Chinese side, despite reports of a fatal cholera outbreak spreading into Ruili, the Yunnan border town that is a hub for Sino-Myanmar trade.
Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out last June, ending a 17-years truce. Beijing has been brokering peace talks between the two sides. The most recent meeting was held last month in Ruili. However, the Myanmar government has not been able to reach a peace agreement with the Kachins as it has with nine of the eleven armed ethnic groups in the country that also seek greater autonomy.
Beijing, already unsettled by ethnic unrest of its own on its western reaches, does not want a repeat of 2009 when a Myanmar offensive against an ethnic Kokang militia in Shan state forced more than 30,000 refugees to flee into China. It has told Naypyidaw to stem this latest flow of Kachin refugees. “Maintaining the peace and stability of the Chinese-Myanmar frontier region concerns the common interests of both countries,” chief government adviser Jia Qinglin told visiting Myanmar lower house speaker and former third-ranking general in the junta, Thura Shwe Mann (via Reuters).
Beijing also wants the considerable infrastructure projects it is building and bankrolling in Myanmar to proceed smoothly. Relations between the two countries have got testier over the past year following President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government replacing the long-ruling junta that counted only Beijing and Pyongyang as fast friends. Since then, Thein Sein has started opening up more to the rest of the world and, as he put it in a speech marking the first anniversary of his government, aims to “maintain amity with both East and West”. Myanmar, like Sudan, Syria and the South China Sea, has become yet another place where Beijing is finding its foreign relations to be becoming more complex, and its national interests rubbing up against those of others.