Tag Archives: Yunnan

China’s Unwanted Kokang Conundrum

THE ESCALATION OF the fighting just over Yunnan’s border in the Kokang region of Myanmar’s Shan state leaves Beijing with an unwanted humanitarian, security and strategic headache. China is providing food and shelter for some 30,000 refugees that have fled across the border into Yunnan, state media say. Most of the refugees can be assumed to be Kokang, who are ethnically Chinese, and Chinese migrant workers.

China first set up refugee camps following the outbreak of hostilities between the separatist Kokang National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Myanmar government forces on February 9. The clashes have since intensified leaving 70 dead, including at least one Red Cross worker after an attack on a Red Cross convoy. The government in Naypyidaw has declared a state of emergency and martial law in the region.

China does not like such instability along its borders at the best of times and has sent troops to reinforce its side of this particular one. Beijing will initially be hospitable to those fleeing the fighting, firstly because they are Chinese, and secondly because the MNDAA was once part of the Chinese-backed Communist Party of Burma.

The MNDAA’s former leader Peng Jiasheng has been in exile in China, if not very publicly, since being driven out of power in 2009 — an event that triggered a similar influx of refugees fleeing the fighting, and which China was less prepared to deal with then than this time. It is Peng’s return now that has caused the renewed flare-up of fighting, ending the ceasefire than has existed since he was driven out.

Peng’s return, this Bystander would hazard, is neither sanctioned nor wanted by Beijing. It has been trying to broker peace deals between the Myanmar government and a score of ethnic groups in the northeast of Myanmar who want varying degrees of autonomy. Naypyidaw wants to strike a comprehensive peace deal ahead of national legislative elections due to be held later this year.

Beyond ensuring peace and stability along its borders, China’s bigger strategic imperatives in Myanmar have changed. The country has natural resources such as jade and desirable crops such as sugar. But more importantly, Naypyidaw’s growing rapprochement with the United States has undermined Beijing’s position as Myanmar’s principal political ally. It is not going to damage that relationship any further by backing separatist groups.

Myanmar is also an important link in President Xi Jinxing’s ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy. This is the development of the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ — or China’s overland and maritime shipping routes to the Middle East and Europe through which political ties and strategic influence are intended to flow as voluminously as energy, natural resources and manufactures. Myanmar is a particular way station in this endeavour between China and Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean as well as being a prime candidate for Xi’s ‘periphery diplomacy’.

To that end, Beijing wants a stable Myanmar. Its preference is for Naypyidaw to reach a peace settlement with its ethnic rebels to put and to conflicts such as that with the Kokang and with the Kachins, which flared up in 2012 and 2013. It has called for just that course of action.

If, against the odds, Peng does regain control of Kokang, China will be at least passively accommodative towards him. It has done the same in Pakistan or Afghanistan, where it has proven deft at working with local warlords and the central governments. However, that is not a situation Beijing wants to see as it will furnish it with neither border stability nor strategic leverage.

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More Trouble Beyond China’s Western Reaches

PARTS OF YUNNAN’S border with Myanmar have been closed following a flare-up of fighting on the Myanmar side. Deadly exchanges between government forces and Kokang ethnic rebels in north-eastern Shan state have sent thousands of refugees fleeing into Yunnan province.

The Myanmar army has reportedly bombed around the town of Laukai leading locals and Chinese traders to seek safety in Zhengkang and Namping on the Chinese side of the border barely 5 kilometers away. Beijing has sent PLA troops to patrol the border and has created a camp to feed and shelter refugees. A foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency that the refugees ‘had been looked after’. The group involved in the fighting is the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, formerly part of the China-backed Communist Party of Burma.

There has been sporadic fighting in the mountainous area since December between government forces and the rebels. The Kokang have been trying to regain ground around the town lost in 2009, when a long-standing truce broke down and there was a large-scale exodus from the region into China caused Beijing some consternation.

A broad ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar government and some 17 armed ethnic groups in the north of the country seeking greater autonomy remains deadlocked. Achieving one is part of the political and economic reforms Naypyidaw committed to in 2011 to bolster its case for the lifting of international sanctions.

China has played an active role in truce talks between the various parties, particularly those involving the Kachin Independence Army that remains at open war with Naypyidaw, and which controls territory in which Chinese jade miners operate. Beijing again called for talks to resume after the latest clashes. It wants stability along its western reaches and control over what is thought to be smuggling routes for arms to dissidents in Tibet and Xinjiang and drugs into China’s heartland.

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Rains Bring Scant Relief To Drought In Southwest China

A villager takes water at an almost dried out reservoir in Haila Township of Weining County, southwest China's Guizhou Province, May 20, 2012. Southeast regions of Guizhou are hit by rainstorm and flood while northwest of the porvince are still stranded in drought, which has lingered in the areas for about half a year. A total of 29,763 people and 1,600 hectares farmland in Haila Township have been affected by the drought, according to the local government. (Xinhua/Yang Wenbin)

Nearly 5.5 million people are still suffering from lingering drought in Yunnan and Sichuan despite the recent rains bringing some relief. Authorities say that only 290,000 fewer people and 220,000 fewer livestock in the two provinces are short of water because of the break in the weather. More than 400,000 hectares of crops have been affected, according to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. Rainfall in the two provinces has been at 10% of normal levels, threatening tobacco, corn and rice crops.

Separately, disaster relief authorities in Guizhou say that more than 5.5 million people have been affected by drought, rainstorms and hailstorms that have caused direct economic losses of 1.8 billion yuan ($283 million) so far this year. The picture above of an almost dried out reservoir in Weining County in Guizhou is dated May 20.

Meanwhile, three people died when torrential rain hit Chongqing, and more than 5,000 people had to be relocated after a heavy rainstorm hit parts of Hunan. In Nanning, capital of Guangxi, nearly 900 people were evacuated after a road next to which a school had been drilling for drinking water subsided, causing one building to collapse and six more to tilt.

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Persistent Drought Starts To Threaten China’s Crops

Dried-up bed of the Xinba reservoir in Shilin County, Yunnan Province, March 22, 2012.

The persistent drought that has hit 13 provinces in southwest and central China is starting to have an adverse impact on farming, China’s drought-relief officials have indicated for the first time. The fear is that the spring planting on 4 million hectares of crop land is threatened by the shortage of water. Reservoirs, such as the one in the picture above, in Shilin County, Yunnan, have dried up, worsening China’s structural water shortages. Approaching 8 million people and 4.6 million head of livestock are short of drinking water, officials say, with the latest number suggesting the impact of the lack of rain is spreading with the drought now in its third year in some parts. Yunnan, Sichuan, Hebei, Shanxi and Gansu are worse affected. A widespread emergency relief effort is underway.

Footnote: The main cash crops in Yunnan, where the drought is most intense, are rice, maize and wheat. The province is also known for its tobacco and tea.


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New Pictures Of Yunnan Drought

A boy carries water with his mother in Dayeshan Village of Shilin County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, March 22, 2012. A severe drought has lingered in Yunnan for three consecutive years, leaving 3.2 million people and 1.65 million livestock short of water. A total of 7.9 million people and 676,650 hectares farmland of 125 counties all over the province have been affected by the drought.(Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)

State media has published a new set pictures of the lingering drought in Yunnan. Now into its third year, it has touched nearly 8 million people and become part of daily life, as the photograph above, taken in a village in Shilin County, shows. More than 3 million people are short of drinking water. Water levels in reservoirs in some parts of the province are at their lowest in a decade. The photo below shows a reservoir in Shilin County that has dried out completely. Crops on more than 130,000 hectares of farmland have withered. A significant emergency relief effort is underway across the province.

Last month, officials said that more than 3 million people across the country were short of drinking water because of drought. After Yunnan, the most serious drought is in Inner Mongolia. Gansu and Hubei have also been affected.

Meanwhile, a forest wildfire on the outskirts of Yunnan’s provincial capital, Kunming, that raged for two days at the beginning of the week before being brought under control has flared up again. Update: It has since been brought under control (pictures via Xinhua) but a second forest fire in the region has taken hold. Yunnan is China’s second most heavily forested province.

A villager walks on the dried-up bed of the Xinba reservoir in Shilin County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, March 22, 2012. A severe drought has lingered in Yunnan for three consecutive years, leaving 3.2 million people and 1.65 million livestock short of water. A total of 7.9 million people and 676,650 hectares farmland of 125 counties all over the province have been affected by the drought. (Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)

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New Kachin Peace Talks Scheduled In Yunnan

A third round of the Chinese-brokered peace talks between the Myanmar government and Kachin groups seeking greater autonomy has been scheduled for March 8th in the Yunnan border town of Ruili, according to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma. Fighting along the Sino-Myanmar border threatens a humanitarian disaster with an estimated 70,000 Kachins being displaced by the hostilities. Some 11,000-15,000 have crossed into China, though they are unwanted there, and their presence is not officially recognized.

The Kachin refugee support group Wunpawng Ninghtoi (the People’s Light) tells this Bystander that Chinese officials have again in recent days been pressing the refugees to return to the Myanmar side of the border. It also tells us that living conditions for the refugees in China are deteriorating, with many living under plastic sheeting or in makeshift shelters of bamboo or sugar-cane. They are said to be short of food, fresh water and firewood. An outbreak of cholera on the Kachin side of the border is said to have spread into Ruili.

Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out last June, ending a 17-years truce. Beijing, increasingly unsettled by the unrest in 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. The most recent meeting in the talks between the two sides that Beijing has been brokering  was held last month. However, the Myanmar government has not so far 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.

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More Emergency Relief For Drought-Stricken Yunnan

Photo taken on Feb. 24, 2012 shows cracked land in a pond at Fanglang Village in Malong County of southwest China's Yunnan Province. A brutal drought has wracked the province since late last year, leaving at least 3.15 million people without sufficient supplies of drinking water as of Monday, according to government statistics. (Xinhua/Lin Yiguang)

Emergency funds of 500 million yuan ($80 million) are being allocated for drought-relief in Yunnan, the finance ministry says. This follows the announcement earlier this month of 120 million yuan in relief assistance from central government on top of the 180 million yuan earmarked by the provincial government.

A three-year long drought that has worsened significantly since December has left 3.2 million people short of water. In recent days, more than 1,000 armed police have been deployed to deliver emergency supplies and build water storage facilities in the 15 prefectures in the province worst hit.

The photograph of a dried-out pond, above, was taken on February 24th in Malong county. There are other recent photographs here. The lack of rainfall has dried up more than 270 rivers and 410 small reservoirs, officials say. It is also putting at risk for fire more than 130,000 hectares of forests and more than four times as much cropland. Direct economic losses from the drought are estimated to have already topped 2 billion yuan.


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Little Imminent Prospect Of Peace Along China’s Myanmar Border

Slow progress is being made at the truce talks China is hosting between the Myanmar government and the autonomy-seeking Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Two more days of talks were held last week in Ruili, a border crossing town on the Yunnan side. Naypyidaw’s chief negotiator said afterwards that a lasting truce would not be quickly achieved. Aung Thaung, a former general who is also Myanmar’s industry minister, said the process could take more than three years.

That would not please Beijing, which wants stability along its western reaches and control over what is thought to be an arms smuggling route to Tibetean dissidents in western China, seemingly newly active. Nor would it satisfy Naypyidaw, which needs political settlements with its ethnic minorities to bolster its case for a lifting of international sanctions against the country.

Some 60,000 Kachin have fled their homes in the remote and mountainous region over the past seven months following the breakdown of a 17-years long ceasefire. A few made it into China to seek refuge with relatives, but Beijing has discouraged mass cross-border migration, fearing a large influx of refuges. Instead they are gathering in ever larger numbers in makeshift camps along the border.

Meanwhile, armed skirmishes continue along the Myanmar side of the border with Yunnan between government forces and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army, despite two orders by Myanmar President Thein Sein to his military to end its operations in Kachin. One (unconfirmed) report suggested fighting had spilled at one point across the border into the Chinese province. Further talks between the Naypyidaw government and the KIO are be held, probably in February.


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Beijing’s Helping Hand For Naypyidaw

A new sign of how tight relations have been between Beijing and Naypyidaw: Five months ago, China deported one of the main ethnic Karen rebel leaders to Myanmar after he had been returned to China by Thai authorities following a visa problem when he was trying to return to Bangkok on a flight from Kunming. Mahn Nyein Maung of the Karen National Union (KNU), and who is famous for escaping from Myanmar’s penal colony on Coco Island in 1970 by floating across the Indian Ocean on driftwood, has now reportedly been sentenced to 17 years imprisonment by Myanmar authorities after a secret trial.

The KNU is one of several ethnic groups fighting for autonomy in northern Myanmar, which Naypyidaw has been exploring peace talks while at the same time continuing to wage  military offensives against  them. China is also taking a hard-line against refugees from another rebellious ethnic group in northern Myanmar, the Kachin, whose province borders Yunnan. Reports from a UN humanitarian aid convoy allowed into the area by Naypyidaw say that Chinese authorities told some 2,000 Kachin taking shelter from the fighting at a temporary camp in Laying in Yunnan that if they didn’t go back to Myanmar they would be returned by force. Food and medical supplies from the UN were seemingly not allowed across the border.

Beijing does not want a repeat of the flood of refugees it got when fighting flared up in Kachin in 2009, and some 30,000 fled into Yunnan. This time the feared humanitarian disaster is again starting, but on the Myanmar side of the border. Health conditions are deteriorating and at least one child is reported to have died in the makeshift refugee camps.

Myanmar’s president recently ordered government forces to cease attacks against the Kachin Independence Army, fighting has not stopped along the Sino-Myanmar border. New reports talk for the first time of villages being bombed by the Myanmar air force. We can’t imagine Beijing would allow warplanes to be flying along its borders without its consent, however tacit.

Meanwhile, Beijing is stepping up its diplomatic engagement with Myanmar, including with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier this week had her first meeting with a Chinese ambassador to Myanmar for two decades (shades of lessons learned from Libya perhaps, where Beijing was tardy in establishing contacts with opposition groups). Beijing is also sending its top diplomat, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, to the two-day meeting of Mekong River countries that starts on Monday, though prime minister Wen Jiabao was originally scheduled to attend.

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Naypyidaw Orders Halt To Fighting Along Sino-Myanmar Border

Myanmar President Thein Sein has reportedly ordered a halt to the government’s military offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) along the border with Yunnan. Fighting has intensified since a 17-year old truce broke down in June. Tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins have been displaced, sending up to a reported 7,500 unwanted refugees across the border in to Yunnan and threatening a humanitarian disaster on China’s southwestern doorstep. Chinese authorities in border towns have started encouraging Kachin refugees to return home. Naypyidaw allowed a small U.N. relief convoy through to the border town of Laiza on Monday, the first international aid to get through to the region in a couple of months.

Naypyidaw similarly stopped its offensive against ethnic Shan further south last month. With sporadic fighting continuing in Kachin despite the order to cease fire except in self-defense, one question now is how far the writ of the civilian government in Naypyidaw runs over the military’s commanders on the ground. Another is whether Naypyidaw will be prepared to drop its refusal to put greater autonomy for the region on the agenda of its formal ceasefire talks with the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization.

With several Chinese-backed hydropower dams being built in Kachin, including the controversial and now halted Myitsone Dam on the headwaters of the Mekong, Beijing badly needs an outbreak of peace in this gateway to Southeast Asia.


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